Valhalla Foundation Makes $3.4 Million Grant to the Whitehead Fellows Program
Since 1984, the prestigious Whitehead Fellows Program has enabled extraordinarily talented young scientists to launch independent labs right out of graduate school, instead of joining a senior researcher’s lab. These highly accomplished researchers have gone on to extraordinary success as leaders of top academic and commercial research programs around the world. The Program’s alumni range from the dean of Harvard Medical School and a NASA astronaut to world-renowned researchers on cancer, genomics, and metabolism and top executives of global pharma and biotech companies.
Recognizing the Program’s capacity to give uniquely skilled biomedical investigators a head-start on pursuing their scientific visions, the Woodside, California-based Valhalla Foundation is making a $3.4 million grant to underwrite two new Whitehead Fellows, each for five-year appointments. Valhalla is the grantmaking organization of philanthropists Signe Ostby and Scott Cook—and the new Valhalla Foundation Fellows build on fellowships they initially established in 2015.
“One of Valhalla’s primary objectives is to accelerate medical breakthroughs across a range of diseases by funding promising early-career scientists at institutions that can nurture their talents,” Signe Ostby explains. “The Whitehead Fellows Program has long been a model for academic centers seeking to identify and support top young researchers who go on to become world-class scientific leaders.”
The first Valhalla Foundation Fellow will be Tobiloba Oni, who joined the Institute in February as a Whitehead Fellow. Oni is a cell biologist whose graduate research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) focused on pancreatic cancer. At CSHL, he helped develop one of the first mouse and human organoid models of pancreatic cancer and then used those models to identify tumor-specific metabolic vulnerabilities and resistance pathways. He also generated antibodies to abnormal proteins on the cell-surface of tumor cells, which are now being used to develop more effective methods for detecting pancreatic cancer.
“The Foundation puts its faith in the Institute to recruit the best, and Tobi is a great exemplar of the phenomenal young researchers we want to support," says Scott Cook.
Whitehead Institute director Ruth Lehmann observes, “The Whitehead Fellows Program is central to our dual mission of advancing biomedical research and preparing the next generation of pioneering scientists. The support that Valhalla Foundation’s founders previously provided the Program has been key to our ability to support and mentor two current Fellows—Olivia Corradin and Kristen Knouse—who are already demonstrating their great capacity for scientific leadership.
“We are extraordinarily grateful for the Foundation’s continuing support,” Lehmann says, “and for the statement it makes on the Institute’s capacity to help shape the future of biomedical research.”
For more information on the Valhalla Foundation, see Valhalla.org.
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