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Program Snapshot

Part of the Common Fund's High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the Pioneer Award supports individual scientists of exceptional creativity, who propose pioneering and transforming approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.


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Stuttering Mice Help Study Human Disorder

Timothy Holy, a 2009 Pioneer, engineered mice with the same mutations linked to human stuttering and found the mice mimicked similar vocalization patterns as human stutterers. The mouse model provides opportunities for new research in stuttering and treatments.

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Controlling Memories

Lorna Role, a 2010 Pioneer, found an increased amount of acetylcholine in the amygdala during the formation of a traumatic memory strengthens the memory and makes it last longer, while decreasing acetylcholine during a traumatic experience wipes the memory out. The research offers treatment possibilities for diseases affecting memory and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Treating Mitochondrial Disease with Hypoxia

Vamsi Mootha (2011 Transformative Researcher) and Feng Zhang (2010 and 2015 Transformative Researcher and 2012 Pioneer) found low levels of oxygen is an effective therapy for mitochondrial diseases, which are debilitating and largely untreatable. Zebrafish and mouse models showed fewer symptoms and had a dramatically longer life span when raised in a low oxygen environment.

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Application Information

Hand filling out form •  Open to all career stages
•  Reference Letters required
•  Minimum of 51% research effort
•  Awards up to $700K per year for up to 5 years
•  More information
Application Status
FY 2017




Congratulations to the 2016 NIH Director's Pioneer Awardees! (pictures)
Read the press release

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Matthew Disney

Can Diseased Cells Help to Make Their Own Drugs?


Matthew Disney, a 2015 Pioneer, is featured in the NIH Director's Blog discussing his work on treating "undruggable" diseases that are difficult to treat, in part because the drugs needed to disable the lengthy, disease-causing RNA molecules are too large to cross cell membranes. Rather than delivering finished drugs into the cell, Disney proposes delivering smaller building blocks of the drugs and using the cell's own machinery to produce the larger compounds.

Tony Wyss-Coray

A New Chemistry for Aging Research?


Tony Wyss-Coray, a 2015 Pioneer, is featured in the NIH Director's Blog for his research developing a way to uniquely tag cell secreted proteins so they can be tracked and measured in the bloodstream over time. Knowing the origin and amount of the proteins may enable him to answer questions regarding the aging process.

Gwendalyn Randolph

New Piece in the Crohn’s Disease Puzzle?


Gwendalyn Randolph, a 2015 Pioneer, is featured in the NIH Director's Blog for her work mapping the flow of fats, immune cells, and other molecules through the blood and lymphatic vessels and examining how changes to the blood and lymphatic vasculature contribute to Crohn’s disease.

Hao Wu

Complex Solutions to Inflammation


Hao Wu, a 2015 Pioneer, is featured in the NIH Director's Blog for her work developing small molecules or altered proteins that could be delivered to immune cells to prevent runaway inflammation.

Cell nucleus

Tracing Free-Floating DNA Back to Its Source


Jay Shendure, a 2013 Pioneer, is featured in the NIH Director's Blog for developing a new tool that can trace free-floating DNA back to its original source. The method opens the possibility of being able to identify cancers and improve the diagnosis, treatment, and management of a vast array of health conditions all with a simple blood draw.

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