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NHGRI Announces Six Inaugural Genomic Innovator Awards

Supporting early career investigators at the cutting edge of genomics

The Genomic Innovator Awards will provide funding to six institutions as detailed below, to support early career researchers studying genome biology, genomic medicine, technology development and societal implications of genomic advances. The amount of support to accelerate genomics research is expected to total approximately $500,000 per year over a five year project period. 

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of NIH, created the Genomic Innovators Awards in 2018. Unlike more traditional research grants, these special NHGRI awards will provide funding to support investigators with outstanding records of productivity as they pursue important research areas, including new directions as they arise. This program contributes to the ongoing NIH effort to accelerate scientific innovation by promoting stable funding to investigators, prompting improved productivity and facilitating flexible, ambitious and creative research.

Examples of other NIH grant programs with a similar purpose include the High Risk, High Reward Research program funded by the NIH Common Fund, Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and the Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute.

“NHGRI could not be more pleased to announce awards that will help talented investigators pursue their research ideas in a highly nimble fashion,” said NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. “All awards have enormous potential to make meaningful contributions to genomics in the coming years.”

All awards have enormous potential to make meaningful contributions to genomics in the coming years.


The principal investigators and their research interests are:


Channabasavaih Gurumurthy

Channabasavaiah Gurumurthy, Ph.D., at University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, aims to develop technologies that will address common challenges relating to developing and breeding mouse models. Mouse models are essential for biomedical research, with about 70% of NIH grant applications relating to mouse studies. Given the frequent use of mouse models around the globe, addressing these challenges may have lasting impact on biomedical research.

Eric Gamazon

Eric Gamazon, Ph.D., at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, studies the genomic and environmental basis of observable physical characteristics, including hair and eye color, personality traits, and disease risk and resilience. Dr. Gamazon will develop computational tools for the analysis of all such observable characteristics relating to medical conditions. Specifically, he will develop methods to advance our understanding of the mechanisms through which genomic variation influences disease risk.

Jason Vassey

Jason Vassy, M.D., at Harvard Medical School, Boston, aims to develop and validate clinical polygenic risk scores for six common diseases: coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes mellitus, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. These tests will then be used in clinical trials using point-of-care testing, which provides immediate results to patients where they are being cared for. 

Luca Pinello

Luca Pinello, Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, is interested in disease-associated variants that lie in regions of the genome that do not code for genes. Many of these regions regulate expression of genes and are called regulatory elements. Dr. Pinello’s team will develop approaches to discover and understand how these regulatory elements function and how mutations in these areas can contribute to disease.

Stacy Gray

Stacy Gray, M.D., at The City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duarte, California, has previously shown that people are often unaware that their genome has been sequenced or understand the implications of their results. In addition, many physicians also do not understand the DNA-sequence information gathered. Dr. Gray is developing an interactive web-based, point-of-care tool for physicians and patients that will help providers and patients better understand their genomic information. The application will also facilitate sharing of genomic information within families, ultimately leading to higher quality patient care.

Timothy O'Connor

Timothy O'Connor, Ph.D., at University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences, asks questions such as: what makes us different? What links us? Dr. O’Connor focuses on identifying genomic variants that exist in specific ancestry populations. His work aims to classify small segments of identity by descent using genomic variants and to use the data to investigate mutational rates across populations, including how these processes impact human health and disease.


About NHGRI and NIH

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is one of the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NHGRI Division of Intramural Research develops and implements technology to understand, diagnose and treat genomic and genetic diseases. Additional information about NHGRI can be found at: www.genome.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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Last updated: August 27, 2019