NIH Increases Support of High-Impact Research with Pioneer and New Innovator Awards

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has increased its support of high-impact research with 2008 NIH Director's Pioneer and New Innovator Awards to 47 scientists, many of whom are in the early stages of their careers. The grants, estimated to be up to $138 million over five years, enable recipients to pursue exceptionally innovative approaches that could transform biomedical and nanotechnology.

"Nothing is more important to me than stimulating and sustaining deep innovation, especially for early career investigators and despite challenging budgetary times. These highly creative researchers are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and radically shift our understanding," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

While scientists at any career level can receive Pioneer Awards, only early career investigators who have not held an NIH regular research (R01) or similar NIH grant are eligible for New Innovator Awards. Both programs are key components of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research.

Now in its fifth year, the Pioneer Award program has made 63 awards, 16 of them in 2008. The New Innovator Award program, launched in 2007, supports 61 investigators-30 selected last year and 31 more this year.

Each Pioneer Award provides $2.5 million in direct costs over five years. New Innovator Awards are for $1.5 million in direct costs over the same time period.

"These programs are central elements of NIH efforts to encourage and fund especially novel investigator-initiated research, even if it might carry a greater-than-usual degree of risk of not succeeding. The awards also reflect our goal of supporting more investigators in the early stages of their careers," Zerhouni noted.

Zerhouni will announce the 2008 award recipients today at the start of the NIH Director's Pioneer Award Symposium on the NIH's Bethesda, Md., campus.

For both programs, NIH selects the recipients through special application and evaluation processes. Distinguished outside experts identify the most highly competitive applicants. The Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, performs the second level of review and Zerhouni makes final decisions based on the outside evaluations and programmatic considerations.

"These nontraditional application and review processes are serving as models in our efforts to enhance the NIH peer review system so that we can fund the best science, by the best scientists, while reducing the administrative burden for both applicants and reviewers," Zerhouni said.

Biographical sketches of the new Pioneer Award recipients are at The symposium agenda is at More information on the Pioneer Award, including details on the 47 scientists who received awards in the first four years of the program, is at

Information on the New Innovator Award is at Details on the research plans of the new recipients are at

A selection of the recipients'names, institutions, and research plans are listed below.

2008 NIH Director's Pioneer Award Recipients

  • James K. Chen, Ph.D., Stanford University assistant professor of chemical and systems biology, who will develop and use synthetic probes to examine the regulation of embryonic development at the molecular level.
  • James Eberwine, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Elmer Bobst Professor of Pharmacology and co-director of the Penn Genome Frontiers Institute, who will use groups of RNA molecules to modify cellular properties.
  • Charles M. Lieber, Ph.D., Harvard University professor of chemistry, who will develop interfaces between nanoelectronic devices and cells to create new biomaterials and tools for studying the brain.
  • Teri W. Odom, Ph.D., Northwestern University associate professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering, who will create metallic nanomaterials to improve the ability to study subcellular structure in three dimensions.
  • Hongkun Park, Ph.D., Harvard University professor of chemistry and of physics, who will develop new nano- and microelectronic tools that enable the meticulous study of the design principles of the brain.

2008 NIH Director's New Innovator Award Recipients

  • Xiangfeng Duan, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, who will develop a new generation of integrated nanoprobes for monitoring, mapping, and manipulating neural activities with unprecedented speed and sensitivity.
  • David H. Gracias, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, who will develop mobile, micro- to nanoscale tools and devices for medicine.

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