Two Whitehead Fellows snag prestigious NIH Early Independence Awards

September 30, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Whitehead Fellows Sebastian Lourido and David Pincus have each been named a recipient of a 2013 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Early Independence Award, aimed at accelerating the careers of exceptionally creative junior scientists.

Modeled after Whitehead Institute’s renowned Fellows Program, the Early Independence Award (EIA) program was launched in 2011 to support young scientists within one year of having earned their doctoral degrees. The awards enable qualified recipients to conduct independent biomedical or behavioral research by skipping the traditional postdoctoral training period.

The EIA is a part of the so-called High Risk-High Reward program supported by the NIH Common Fund.

“NIH is excited to continue support of visionary investigators, at all career stages, pursuing science with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of scientific research into improved health, through the Common Fund’s High Risk-High Reward Research Program,” says NIH Director Francis Collins. “This Program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical research areas.”

Lourido and Pincus, two of the 15 awardees selected nationwide, will receive five years of funding from the NIH. By investigating how the parasites that cause malaria and toxoplasmosis regulate their movements to invade host cells, Lourido hopes to elucidate the mechanics of this process and ultimately identify new treatments for these diseases.

“I’m thrilled to take part in this exciting initiative,” says Lourido, who came to Whitehead Institute in late 2012 after completing his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. “I believe the High Risk-High Reward programs foster scientific creativity by supporting research that stems from an investigator’s curiosity and ideas.”

Pincus will use the support from the award to study the mechanisms that regulate homeostasis in stress response pathways to understand how these pathways are hijacked in cancer and disrupted in neurodegenerative disease. Pincus believes that clarifying the way cells balance their activities to meet the changing demands of stressful environments when they are healthy could reveal new targets to fight cancer and new strategies to reverse neurodegenerative disease.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be selected as a recipient of this award,” says Pincus. “It’s a wonderful validation from the NIH of the work we’re doing in my lab in particular and for basic science in general. This funding will enable us to really turn the crank and push the science forward.”

Pincus joined Whitehead Institute in the fall of 2012, having graduated with his PhD from University of California, San Francisco. He and Lourido are now the second and third Whitehead Fellows currently funded by EIAs. Gabriel Victora is a 2012 recipient of the honor.

In addition to Lourido and Pincus, the 2013 class of EIA recipients includes another young scientist with ties to Whitehead Institute. David Weinberg, a Faculty Fellow at University of California, San Francisco, received his PhD at MIT while training in the laboratory of Whitehead Member David Bartel.

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