At least seven Indian American innovators were recognized recently by the National Institute of Health and its Office of Strategic Coordination's The Common Fund as 2017 New Innovator Award recipients.

Of the 55 recipients named by the NIH director, the Indian Americans included Ishan Barman, Akhilesh K. Gaharwar, Nikhil S. Malvankar, Dr. Priya Rajesethupathy, Neville E. Sanjana, Kavitha Sarma and Radhika Subramanian.

Barman, of Johns Hopkins University, was chosen for his project, "Spectroscopy Assisted Mechano-Chemical Phenotype Recognition Nanoscope." He was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Barman is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University with a joint appointment in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. He graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology and then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his doctorate, where he investigated transdermal blood analyte monitoring using vibrational spectroscopy. Following a postdoctoral stint at the Laser Biomedical Research Center at MIT, Barman established his independent group at the Johns Hopkins University in 2014. By combining optical spectroscopy, chemical imaging and nanoplasmonics, the Barman Lab develops non-invasive approaches in which structural and molecular data converge to provide integrated insight into disease mechanisms, NIH said.

Gaharwar, of Texas A&M University, was chosen for the project, "Mineralomics: Designing Mineral Based Therapeutics to Control and Direct Cell Function."

Gaharwar is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. He received his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Purdue University in 2011 and completed his postdoctoral training from MIT and Harvard University. The goal of his lab is to understand the cell-nanomaterials interactions and to develop nanoengineered strategies for modulating stem cell behavior for repair and regeneration of damaged tissue, according to NIH.

In particular, his lab is leveraging principles from materials science, stem cell biology, additive biomanufacturing and high throughput genomics to design nanoengineered biomaterials, with wide-ranging applications in the field of regenerative medicine, it said.

His lab has developed approaches to direct stem cells differentiation by modulating the biophysical and biochemical characteristics of nanoengineered biomaterials, the organization added.

Malvankar of Yale University was chosen for the project, "Targeting Bacterial Infections by Imaging Electrical Interactions Between Host Surface Pathogens."

Malvankar is an assistant professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, and a faculty member of the Microbial Sciences Institute at Yale’s West Campus. He leads an interdisciplinary team to develop novel technologies to define the mechanisms by which microbes interact with and manipulate their environment.

The ultimate goal of his research is to engineer these interactions to control microbial pathophysiology and ecology, NIH said. He completed his doctorate in biophysics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, followed by postdoctoral training in microbiology. He has received the Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Research Award in 2016, Charles H. Hood Foundation Child Health Research Award in 2015, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface in 2014.

Rajasethupathy, of Rockefeller University, was chosen for her project, "Bridging the Gap from Genes to Circuits to Behavior in Understanding Cognitive Dysfunction."

She is the Jonathan M. Nelson Family Assistant Professor and head of the laboratory of neural dynamics and cognition at Rockefeller University. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and subsequently obtained both medical and doctorate degrees in neuroscience from Columbia University. She did her post-doctoral work at Stanford University where she developed and applied methodologies in two photon in vivo imaging, optogenetics and volumetric gene expression analyses of intact brain, to discover novel mechanisms underlying top-down, goal-directed memory retrieval, NIH said.

Currently, at Rockefeller University, experiments in her lab are aimed at understanding brain wide genomic and neural circuit computations that support higher order memory and cognitive processes, it added.

Sanjana, of the New York Genome Center and New York University, was selected as a recipient for his project, "In Situ Functional Genomics to Understand Transcriptional Regulation."

He is a core faculty member at the New York Genome Center and an assistant professor of biology at New York University and of neuroscience and physiology at the NYU School of Medicine. Utilizing new technologies for large-scale DNA synthesis and gene editing, Sanjana has developed pooled screening approaches for functional genomics and applied them to gene regulation, cancer evolution and metastasis, drug resistance, cancer immunotherapy, neurodevelopmental disorders and synthetic biology, NIH said.

Recent work in the Sanjana Lab is focused on creating new genome engineering tools to pinpoint functional elements in the noncoding genome and decipher their regulatory logic, it added.

Sanjana was previously a Simons Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute and MIT, obtained a doctorate in brain and cognitive sciences from MIT, and holds a B.S. in symbolic systems and a B.A. in English literature from Stanford University.

He is a recipient of the Kimmel Scholar Award, the Melanoma Research Alliance Young Investigator Award, the NIH Pathway to Independence Award and the Paul Allen Institute for Brain Science Next Generation Leader Award.

Sarma of the Wistar Institute, was chosen for her project, "Epigenetic Regulation Through the Formation and Resolution of R Loops."

Sarma joined The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia as an assistant professor in the Gene Expression and Regulation program in 2016. She completed her doctorate thesis with Danny Reinberg at Rutgers University where she studied mechanisms of eukaryotic gene expression, NIH said.

Her postdoctoral training in the field of X chromosome inactivation was conducted with Jeannie Lee at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a postdoctoral fellow, she was a recipient of the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award. Her laboratory currently explores RNA function in epigenetic gene regulation and in the formation of atypical chromatin structures in disease.

Subramanian, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was chosen for the project, "A Versatile Platform for Reconstructing the Spatial Organization of Intracellular Signaling During Cell-Division."

Subramanian is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Her lab focuses on elucidating the fundamental principles by which intracellular spatial organization on the micron-length scale is achieved by the collective activity of nanometer-sized proteins, NIH said.

She received her master’s in chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. She later performed her doctoral research with Dr. Jeff Gelles at Brandeis University followed by postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Tarun Kapoor at Rockefeller University. In addition to the NIH New Innovator Award, Subramanian is a Pew Biomedical Scholar and a recipient of the Smith Family Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research.

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