Three UC Berkeley professors won $1.5 million grants from the National Institutes of Health on Sept. 30 that will fund “high-risk, high-reward” biomedical and behavioral research.
UC Berkeley professors Jennifer Ahern, Dave Savage and Hillel Adesnik will use the award — called the New Innovator Award — to fund their research over the course of five years. The award, which was established in 2007, is usually granted to researchers who have not yet received a sizable grant from the National Institutes of Health and who are conducting creative research that, if successful, could have a high potential impact in certain biomedical fields.
“They’re very selective about it, and it’s hard to win one of these,” Ahern, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health, said. “They want you to propose ideas that are highly innovative and challenge paradigms of how we think in the world and how we approach problems.”
Ahern said she plans to use the grant to assess the health effects of programs pertaining to criminal justice, violence prevention and prison overcrowding alleviation, among others. Her research will focus on studying how living in areas with prevalent violence affects physical well-being. She plans to create an online simulation system that will include data on the health effects of certain policies and programs to make looking up the information cost-efficient.
“The purpose of this award is to give you a reward with no strings attached,” Savage said. He is an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry who also won the grant. “They give you a lot of freedom, and it’s very nice in this stage of the career.”
Savage is using the grant to develop biosensors that will examine how cells absorb nutrients and reproduce in older organisms. He said his goal is to recreate the metabolic process in cells to better understand diseases like cancer and diabetes.
Adesnik, an assistant professor of neurobiology and a colleague of Savage, is using his award to study the neural basis of perception, or how neural activity allows people to perceive the external world. Ultimately, he hopes to apply his research to neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
The award will provide each of the researchers with $300,000 a year for five years.