The National Institutes of Health recently announced its 2016 Early Independence Award program recipients with Dr. Aashish Manglik, an Indian American Distinguished Fellow at the Stanford University of Medicine, among those honored.

The Early Independence Award program was part of the NIH Common Fund's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, and named 16 winners 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 2010, provides an opportunity for exceptional junior scientists who have recently received their doctoral degree or completed their medical residency to skip traditional post-doctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions.

Reducing the amount of time these scientists spend in training would provide them the opportunity to start highly innovative research programs as early in their careers as possible. It would also allow host institutions to invigorate their scientific communities by integrating the fresh perspectives brought by the junior investigators, NIH said.

Manglik, the first Stanford Distinguished Fellow at the Stanford University School of Medicine, earned the honor for his project, "Molecular Mechanisms of Iron Homeostasis."

Manglik earned his B.A. degrees in biology and chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and later earned his doctorate and medical degrees at Stanford University.

His graduate research focused on the structural and biophysical basis of G protein-coupled receptor signaling, NIH said.

Currently, the Manglik Lab aims to understand the molecular basis of transmembrane signaling and transport using a broad range of methods in structural biology, protein biophysics, pharmacology and protein engineering, it said.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supported by the NIH’s Common Fund, included 12 Pioneer awards, 22 Transformative Research awards and 48 Director's New Innovator award winners, in addition to the Early Independence 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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