Whitehead Member to receive NIH grant for "high-risk, high-reward" research

Logo of NIH Director's Pioneer Award

September 13, 2012

Tags: Ploegh LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Whitehead Institute Member Hidde Ploegh has been named a recipient of a 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award, intended to accelerate the pursuit of potentially groundbreaking research.

The NIH Director’s Pioneer Award program, established in 2004, supports individual scientists of “exceptional creativity who propose pioneering—and possibly transforming approaches—to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.” The Pioneer program is one of three risk-taking funding initiatives of the NIH’s so-called Common Fund.

In announcing the awardees today, NIH Director Francis Collins stated: “The Common Fund High Risk, High Reward program provides opportunities for innovative investigators in any area of health research to take risks when the potential impact in biomedical and behavioral science is high.”

Ploegh, one of only 10 Pioneer Award recipients nationwide, will receive up to five years of funding to support his single-domain antibody research. Ploegh plans to leverage unique protein labeling technology developed in his lab to identify the targets of single-domain antibodies in large-scale fashion and to explore how such antibodies could be used to alter intracellular activity and cellular function. He plans to apply the approach in such model organisms as Drosophila and C. elegans.

“Single-domain antibodies have properties that can be radically different from their more conventional two-chain counterparts, and this may mean we could be in for some surprises,” says Ploegh. “A huge advantage of the single-domain antibodies is that they can easily be produced in bacteria, shared as plasmids, and used to create fusions with other proteins to endow them with new functions. I think that, if properly developed, this approach may be an interesting complement to genetic techniques such as RNAi, but time will tell—that's why it's a high risk, potentially high gain situation.”

Today’s announcement also includes the recipients of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, supporting promising young investigators. Among them is Jan Carette, an Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, who is pursuing a program he began at Whitehead Institute as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of former Whitehead Fellow Thijn Brummelkamp.

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Hidde Ploegh's primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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