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Penn Medicine Recipients of New NIH Award for Transformative Research
October 27, 2009, Volume 56, No. 09


Lee, Frank
Master, Steven
Wang, Yongping

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine investigators are among the 42 recipients of a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) award that encourages investigators to challenge the status quo with innovative ideas. NIH expects to make competing awards totaling $30 million to the recipients of the new NIH Director’s Transformative R01 (T-R01) Awards. Co-investigators Dr. Frank S. Lee, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and Dr. Stephen Master, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, will receive $1.97 million in total costs over the next five years. Dr. Robert B. Wilson, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, will receive $1.57 million over the next four years.

Accelerating the current pace of discovery is an ongoing effort at the NIH, but the T-R01 Program is new this year. Named for the standard investigator-initiated research project that the NIH supports, the R01, the T-R01s provide an opportunity for a scientist that is like no other NIH program. Since no budget cap is imposed and preliminary results are not required, scientists are free to propose new, bold ideas that may require significant resources to pursue. They are also given the flexibility to work in large teams if the complexity of the research problem demands it.

Drs. Lee and Master will pursue studies on how cells sense oxygen. Work from a number of laboratories, including theirs, has shown that a distinctive chemical modification in cells known as prolyl hydroxylation plays a critical role in regulating a hypoxia inducible protein known as HIF, which senses low oxygen levels in cells. These studies will have implications for understanding diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, and cancer that are characterized by hypoxia.

Dr. Wilson will be working with a novel RNA library, co-invented with postdoctoral fellow Dr. Yongping Wang. The library expresses short-hairpin-loop RNAs (shRNAs) that are completely random at the nucleotide, or DNA building block, level. Using cell-based models, the Wilson lab will screen for shRNAs that promote stem-cell induction, stem-cell differentiation, and protection against viral infection. These studies have implications for both cell-based and infectious-disease therapeutics.

“The appeal of the awards is that investigators are encouraged to challenge the status quo with innovative ideas, while being given the necessary resources to test them,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins. “The fact that we continue to receive such strong proposals for funding through the programs reflects the wealth of creative ideas in science today.”

More information on the Transformative R01 Award is available at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/T-R01.

For descriptions of the 2009 recipients’ research plans, see http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/T-R01/Recipients09.asp.

Almanac - October 27, 2009, Volume 56, No. 09