UMass Medical Professor Given NIH Pioneer Award

October 27, 2014

University of Massachusetts Medical School professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology Oliver Rando, M.D., Ph.D., is the recent recipient of a National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award for a new project about how a father’s diet prior to conception can affect his future children’s metabolism. Rando is one of 10 Pioneer Award winners in 2014 and one of 85 High-Risk, High-Reward awardees from the NIH.

The award gives Rando and his lab a five-year, $4.2 million grant to aid in research related to paternal influence on children. Past research has focused on how a father’s diet influences his child’s diabetes. Rando explained that he is thankful for the NIH’s grant.

“I am incredibly appreciative of this award, as it gives me real freedom to pursue this work wherever it takes us,” he said. “This is a rare luxury in today’s funding climate, although it must be said that this is how all basic research should be done. So I am exceptionally grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

‘Pioneering’ solutions to biomedical science
Now in its 11th year, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award program highlights specific scientists who are working on solving problems with creative and unprecedented approaches, according to the program’s website. In order to qualify for this unique award, applicants must prove that their work is “substantially different” than what is being done in other laboratories. Although focused on biomedical and behavioral research, grants may be awarded to broader applications, including work with mathematics, engineering, clinical science and many others.

Other High-Risk, High-Reward awards
The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award is one of the most interesting grants, because it rewards fresh approaches to various biomedical issues – but so do the NIH’s other 75 total High-Risk, High-Reward grants and awards. All 85 total up to about $141 million.

Fifty of these grants are New Inventor Awards. Started in 2007, these awards are designed not just for creative and innovative work, but also targeted to younger or newer researchers who show substantial promise. Projects must show “potential for unusually high impact” to be considered, according to the NIH.

There were also 17 Early Independence Awards and eight Transformative Research Awards given by the NIH. Early Independence Awards are designed to help recent graduates skip post-doctorate training and move directly to independent research. Transformative Research Awards are designed to fund projects that many see as risky and untested – the most high risk, high reward of all.

All of these 85 awards help biomedical researchers and labs that are working on projects that often fall outside the funding scope of more traditional grants because of their unique approach or subject.