The National Institutes of Health announced that it is awarding $143.8 million to challenge the status quo with innovative ideas that have the potential to propel fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health for the American public.

Two affiliates of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) were among those honored.

Sharad Ramanathan, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics and of Molecular and Cellular Biology shared a Pioneer award with Florian Engert, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Ramanathan’s research is directed towards answering two questions. How do cells and organisms process signals from their environment to make decisions? How do the underlying circuits make this  possible?

Ramanathan received his Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from Harvard University and his and undergraduate degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

Erez Lieberman Aiden '10 (Ph.D.) received a New Innovator Award. He is currently a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Visiting Faculty at Google, and director of the Lab at Large based at SEAS.

He studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy at Princeton. He received his Master's degree in History at Yeshiva University, followed by a Master's in Applied Physics at Harvard. Most recently, he completed a Ph.D. in Applied Math and Biomedical engineering at Harvard and MIT.

Other winners from Harvard included faculty members Jeff W. Lichtman, Markus Meister, and Joshua Sanes. The team received the Transformative Research Projects Award.

These awards are granted under three innovative research programs supported by the NIH Common Fund: the NIH Director’s Pioneer, New Innovator, and Transformative Research Projects Awards. The Common Fund, enacted into law by Congress through the 2006 NIH Reform Act, supports trans-NIH programs with a particular emphasis on innovation and risk taking.

“The NIH Director’s Award programs reinvigorate the biomedical work force by providing unique opportunities to conduct research that is neither incremental nor conventional,” said James M. Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, who guides the Common Fund’s High-Risk Research program.“The awards are intended to catalyze giant leaps forward for any area of biomedical research, allowing investigators to go in entirely new directions.”

Since inception, the NIH Director’s Award Program has funded a total of 406 High-Risk Research awards:  111 Pioneer Awards since 2004, 216 New Innovator Awards since 2007, and 79 Transformative Research Projects Awards since 2009. This tally includes this year’s 13 Pioneer Awards, 49 New Innovator Awards, and 17 Transformative Research Projects Awards. 

The NIH expects to make competing awards of approximately $10.4 million to Pioneer awardees, $117.5 million to New Innovators, and $15.9 million to Transformative Research Projects awardees in Fiscal Year 2011. The total funding provided to this competing cohort over a five-year period is estimated to be $245.6 million.

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About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.