Three Faculty Receive 2013 NIH High Risk-High Reward Research Awards

October 23, 2013

Three Columbia professors were among the 78 recipients of awards in the National Institutes of Health High Risk-High Reward program. Recognized for proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research, they are Rafael Yuste, Ozgur Sahin, and Christine Ann Denny.

“NIH is excited to continue support of visionary investigators, among all career stages, pursuing science with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of scientific research into improved health,’’ said Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
The need to better understand diseases that affect the cerebral cortex, such as epilepsy and mental illness, is the basis of Yuste’s cited work. A professor of biological sciences and co-director of Columbia’s Kavli Institute for Brain Science, he received the NIH Pioneer Award to help further his group’s research on the structure and function of the neuronal circuits in the cortex.

“The credit should go to my group, who have worked tirelessly rowing against the current in pursuing high-risk research projects,” said Yuste. “This award will help us to continue our work.”

Sahin, associate professor of biological sciences and physics, took home the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for his work on technologies that help visualize chemistry and mechanics of biological molecules.

“I simply want to go to the lab, work with my students even harder than before, and come up with good science,” said Sahin, who was gratified to see that the NIH recognized the lab’s advancing visualization techniques at the Sherman Fairchild Imaging Floor.

With Yuste and Sahin, all three laboratories on that floor are now recipients of the coveted NIH Directors Awards. One of last year’s winners is Assistant Chemistry Professor Wei Min, who is using sophisticated imaging to study protein synthesis in living cells, to devise new ways to understand neurological diseases

The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award went to Denny (GSAS’12), assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, for research on the mechanism of the hippocampus and how memory works, particularly in understanding memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

“I will be continuing my work in the Department of Psychiatry and am extremely excited to continue my career at CUMC,” said Denny.

The prizes range between $1.9 and $4 million over five years.

“This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects, across a broad range of biomedical research areas, that involve inherent risk but have the potential to lead to breakthroughs,” said Collins.
—by Columbia News Staff