Pew-Funded Scientists Recognized for Promising Research

A look at recent awards for—and novel projects undertaken by—Pew scholars and fellows

Pew-Funded Scientists Recognized for Promising Research

Current members and alumni of Pew’s biomedical research programs are at the forefront of innovative research, and the scientific community takes notice. Over the past year, numerous scholars and fellows have been recognized for their contributions in advancing health and science.

The Breakthrough Prize

In September, David Julius, a 1990 Pew biomedical scholar and adviser to Pew’s Innovation Fund, received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for his work uncovering the molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain. The Breakthrough Prizes, sometimes called the “Oscars of Science,” honor researchers who seek to answer complex questions.

Using compounds derived from foods such as chili peppers, wasabi, and mint, Julius studies how humans experience heat, cold, inflammation, and injury. His work has helped doctors better understand pain, an important step to lay the foundation for non-opioid pain treatments.

1min 56sec
Produced by the University of California, San Francisco.

The MacArthur Fellowship

Vanessa Ruta, a neuroscientist and 2012 Pew biomedical scholar, was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship—or “genius grant”—in September. The awards recognize artists, teachers, scientists, and others for the originality of their work and their potential.

Ruta’s research examines how fruit flies learn to associate specific odors with a punishment or reward, work that helps scientists to better understand the relationship between instinctive and learned behaviors and how the brain enables individuals to adapt to changes in their environments.

2min 48sec
Produced by the MacArthur Foundation.

American Cancer Society’s Mission Boost Grant

Andrew Holland, a 2014 Pew-Stewart scholar, received a Mission Boost Grant from the American Cancer Society to continue work on cell division and cancer development in mice that the society initially recognized in 2017. The new funding, announced in October, will help transition his research findings into clinical practice and lend to the development of novel cancer therapies.

1min 55sec
Produced by John Hopkins Medicine.

National Institutes of Health Director’s Awards

The National Institutes of Health Director’s Awards—which include the Pioneer Awards, New Innovator Awards, and Transformative Research Awards—recently recognized 10 Pew scholars and fellows for their scientific contributions in neuroscience, immunology, genetics, and more.

The Pioneer Award

Mark Andermann, a 2013 biomedical scholar, studies the fundamental mechanisms that the brain and body use to communicate with each other—focusing on the sensory perception of mice as they seek food, water, and safety—with potential applications for psychiatry, neurology, and medicine.

Sun Hur, a 2010 biomedical scholar, explores how immune cells recognize foreign materials not normally found in human bodies, which is critical for identifying appropriate immune responses, versus inappropriate ones that can lead to type I diabetes, arthritis, and other autoimmune or inflammatory diseases.

The New Innovator Award

Michel DuPage, a 2019 Pew-Stewart scholar, studies the mechanisms controlling immunosuppression. His work characterizes factors critical for supporting a tumor’s microenvironment, which could reveal new methods in precision-based medicine to combat cancerous tissues.

April Kloxin, a 2013 Pew biomedical scholar, engineers novel materials that help pinpoint and direct biological signals in tissue repair and fibrosis—the formation of excess connective tissue when parts of the body become injured. This work could lead to new therapies for treating these conditions.

Noah Palm, a 2019 Pew biomedical scholar, seeks to identify compounds produced by gut microbes that interact with human cells—including microbial molecules recognized by more than 300 human receptors—by developing a new technology to “fish” out molecules and interpret their contribution to human health and disease.

Seth Rakoff-Nahoum, a 2018 Pew biomedical scholar, studies the gut microbiome to determine how bacteria, fungi, and other microbes interact with host cells, the general intestinal environment, and one another. By unveiling how microbes and host cells communicate, his work can help scientists develop ways to foster growth of beneficial bacteria in the body.

Caroline Runyan, a 2019 Pew biomedical scholar, examines the neural circuits that control the flow of information—including sights, sounds, and smells—throughout the brain. Her work may offer insight into how cells respond to competing sensory stimuli, and help scientists understand disorders in which the processing of sensory information is altered, such as autism or schizophrenia.

Marcos Simoes-Costa, a 2008 Latin American fellow, seeks to understand the regulatory networks controlling the diversification of stem cells during development—a process for generating different cell types throughout the body—to better understand how birth defects form and to establish novel approaches for regeneration.  

Rebecca Voorhees, a 2018 Pew-Stewart scholar, investigates the quality-control factors that ensure protein complexes are properly assembled and broken down, an essential cellular mechanism to prevent buildup of toxic proteins. By examining how cancer cells hijack this mechanism to survive, her research could open a new area of study on molecular surveillance and its role in cancer.

Transformative Research Award

Diana Bautista, a 2009 Pew biomedical scholar, aims to uncover the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the detection of itch, pain, and touch to better grasp how injury or disease changes human sensitivity to these sensory conditions.

Kara Coleman directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ biomedical programs, including the biomedical scholars, Pew-Stewart Scholars for Cancer Research, and Latin American fellows programs.

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