Dr. Baljit Khakh of UCA received a 2013 NIH Pioneer Award.

By A Staff Reporter

Seven Indian Americans were recipients of the 78 grants are being awarded to scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research, under the High Risk-High Reward program supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund.

NIH Pioneer, New Innovator, Transformative Research, and Early Independence Awards encourage creative thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas about biomedical and behavioral research. 

The 2013 NIH Pioneer Award Indian American recipients are Dr. Baljit Khakh, University of California, Los Angeles; and Dr. Jay Ashok Shendure, University of Washington, Seattle.

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award recipients are Dr. Arvin Dar, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City; Dr. Rahul Chandrakant Deo, University of California, San Francisco; Dr. Sunil Gandhi, University of California, Irvine; and Dr. Sivaraj Sivaramakrishnan, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The 2013 NIH Director’s Early Independence Award recipient is Dr. Anupam Bapu Jena of Harvard Medical School.

The Pioneer Award, in its tenth year, challenges investigators at all career levels to develop highly innovative approaches that could have a powerful impact on a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research.

Khakh received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Cambridge in 1995. During his graduate studies, he also spent some time at the Geneva Biomedical Research Institute. Khakh completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Graeme Henderson at the University of Bristol, followed by a fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, working in the laboratories of Drs. Henry A. Lester and Norman Davidson as a Wellcome Trust International Prize Traveling Research Fellow, and senior research fellow in the division of biology. He joined UCLA in April 2006.

Shendure is an assistant professor in the Department of Genome Sciences. His research group is broadly interested in developing new experimental methods and computational tools for the parallelized interrogation of biological systems. As a Ph.D. student, Shendure helped develop polony sequencing, one of the first examples of "next generation DNA sequencing" methods that are now bringing the cost of human genome sequencing close to $1,000.

The New Innovator Award initiative, established in 2007, supports investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency, but who have not yet received a Research Project Grant or equivalent NIH grant, to conduct exceptionally innovative research.

Through his lab, Dar, an associate professor of structural and chemical biology, explores links between the regulation of drug targets and the system level properties of biological networks within cells and animals. Our goals are to create new tools to modulate and explore biomolecular function, with a long-term objective of developing innovative medicines for disease.

Deo’s clinical and research interests involve bringing large-scale genetic and genomic data and emerging computational approaches towards the goal of personalized diagnosis and therapy in cardiovascular medicine. He focuses on patients with inherited cardiovascular disease, particularly cardiomyopathies.

Current projects in Gandhi’s lab are focused on understanding the nature of the plasticity signal emitted by interneurons. He and his team employ a combination of techniques including two-photon functional imaging, in vivo patch-clamp recordings, the transplantation of neuronal precursors, and mouse genetic tools that identify, stimulate and silence defined neural circuits.

Sivaramakrishnan’s laboratory research spans the fields of single molecule biophysics, protein biochemistry and cell biology and integrates a variety of experimental and computational approaches.

The Early Independence Award, with the first awards given in 2011, provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists, who have recently received their doctoral degree or finished medical residency, to skip traditional post-doctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

Jena’s research involves several areas of health economics and policy including medical malpractice, the economics of medical innovation and cost-effectiveness, geographic variation in medical care, and insurance benefit design. 

Using unique data from a nationwide professional liability insurer, Jena’s work on malpractice has provided new estimates of medical malpractice risk according to physician specialty, the costs of defending malpractice claims, and outcomes of malpractice claims undergoing litigation.

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