Two Indian American researchers have been named recipients of The National Institutes of Health 2016 Transformative Research Award program: Amit Choudhary and Dr. Rama Ranganathan.

The Transformative Research Award program is part of the NIH Common Fund's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, and named 22 researchers as recipients Oct. 4.

Though traditionally supporting research projects and not individual investigators, NIH’s High-Risk High-Reward program seeks to identify scientists with ideas that have the potential for high impact, but may be at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process. These awards encourage creative, outside-the-box thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas in biomedical research.

The award, established in 2009, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.

The 22 selected researchers' projects tend to be inherently risky and may not fare well in conventional NIH review. As compared to the other High-Risk, High-Reward Awards, the primary emphasis of the Transformative Research Award is to support research on bold, paradigm-shifting but untested ideas, NIH said.

Choudhary, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate biologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, was named a recipient for his project, "Leveraging Snakes Extreme Physiology to Modulate Human Beta-Cell Function."

Choudhary undertook his pre-doctoral studies in chemistry at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and doctoral studies in biophysics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he elucidated a new force that is akin to the hydrogen bond in its quantum mechanical origin and widespread prevalence, NIH said.

In 2011, he was appointed a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows and was hosted by Prof. Stuart Schreiber at the Broad Institute. There, he shifted his research focus to beta-cell chemical biology and was named a Career Awardee at the Scientific Interface by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, NIH noted.

His independent laboratory develops chemical technologies and studies exceptional organisms that survive conditions considered pathological to humans, it said.

Ranganathan, a professor and founding director of the Green Center for Systems Biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, was chosen by NIH for his project, "Seeing Protein Mechanics: The Link between Molecular Structure, Function, and Evolution."

Ranganathan earned his bachelor's in bioengineering from U.C. Berkeley and his doctorate and medical degrees from U.C. San Diego. He has also been appointed to UT Southwestern's biophysics and pharmacology departments, and holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Chair in biomedical science and the Lyda Hill Endowment for systems biology.

The Ranganathan Laboratory focuses on understanding the basic principles of structure, function and evolvability in biological systems, with particular focus on the atomic and cellular scale, NIH said.

His work has led to new models for the architecture of natural proteins and to new experimental tools for studying the physics and evolution of proteins and cellular systems.

Ranganathan’s honors include the Glenn Award for Research, the Outstanding Teacher Award and the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award for Basic Science.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supported by the NIH’s Common Fund, included 12 Pioneer Awards, 16 Early Independence awards and 48 Director's New Innovator Award winners, in addition to the Transformative Research awards.

“The program continues to support high-caliber investigators whose ideas stretch the boundaries of our scientific knowledge,” said NIH director Dr. Francis S. Collins. “We welcome the newest cohort of outstanding scientists to the program and look forward to their valuable contributions.”

The awards span the broad mission of the NIH and include groundbreaking research: engineering immune cells to produce drugs at sites of diseased tissue, developing a sensor to rapidly detect antibiotic resistant bacteria, understanding how certain parasites evade host detection by continually changing their surface proteins and developing implants that run off the electricity generated from the motion of a beating heart.

All told, NIH doled out around $127 million in grants. The 88 honorees represent contributions from the NIH Common Fund, the National Cancer Institute, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health and the Big Data to Knowledge initiative.

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