Some of the nation's most visionary scientists — recipients of
the NIH Director's Pioneer Award — will gather at Masur Auditorium,
Bldg. 10, on Thursday, Sept. 29. At the first annual NIH Director's
Pioneer Award Symposium, the 2004 awardees will discuss their research
and NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni will announce the 2005 cohort
Come to hear how the Pioneer Award has enabled the 2004 recipients
to focus and speed their efforts to answer some of the most basic
and significant questions of biology: What does the production
of a single protein look like? Can you build metabolic pathways?
How are memories stored? How do viruses recognize and infect cells?
Is there a better way to design a vaccine against HIV?
"Each Pioneer awardee is forging new ground in an important scientific
field," said Zerhouni. "Our goal was to support scientists of exceptional
creativity with pioneering concepts. It is obvious just from their
first year of work that these scientists are making good on their
promise to pursue far-ranging ideas that merit exploration."
Zerhouni will open the symposium at 8:15 a.m. A highlight of the
day promises to be the 2 p.m. roundtable discussion among the 2004
award recipients. The event will end with an informal reception
at 3 p.m.
Here is a taste of the scientific smorgasbord being offered at
Dr. Larry Abbott of Columbia University is using mathematical
modeling to study the neural networks responsible for our actions
and behaviors. His group has devised a new model of synaptic signaling
for memory storage and retrieval. This model explains how memories
of past experiences are retained even as new memories are continually
being formed. The model also makes predictions about the way synaptic
connections between neurons change as a function of neural activity.
Abbott's group is testing the model and exploring its implications
for learning and for designing optimal training strategies.
Dr. George Daley of Children's Hospital Boston/ Harvard Stem Cell
Institute aims to define the code that directs an embryonic stem
cell to specialize, then use that information to regenerate function
lost to disease. His ultimate goal is to reprogram body cells by
means other than nuclear transfer, which he describes as essentially
erasing everything and starting from scratch, and which he believes
may be more drastic than necessary.
Dr. Homme Hellinga of Duke University Medical Center uses molecular
simulation and protein engineering to build components of biological
systems and manipulate their interactions. He envisions ways to
design molecules with completely novel behaviors. Hellinga has
developed a highly automated system to fabricate designed proteins,
eliminating a major bottleneck in the process. His group has already
used the system to design new enzymes and new DNA-binding proteins.
Dr. Mike McCune of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology/University
of California, San Francisco, is exploring host immune responses
that can suppress HIV infection and disease progression. He is
testing the hypothesis that effective immunity against HIV disease
progression relies on a balance between immune responses that can
clear virus and those that favor viral replication and spread.
Dr. Steven L. McKnight of the University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center is studying yeast metabolism to shed light on circadian
rhythm, the built-in 24-hour clock that controls wakefulness, sleep,
feeding and hunger in humans and many other organisms. His team
has found that the yeast metabolic cycle is controlled by genes
that are expressed in an oscillatory manner that is in perfect
alignment with the shift between respiration and glycolysis, the
two ways that yeast generate energy.
Dr. Chad Mirkin of Northwestern University is using nanobiology
to examine how viruses recognize and infect cells as well as to
probe complex cellular processes such as adhesion, motility, growth,
differentiation and death. He has developed several nanotechnology
tools to advance this research. Among these are coated nanoarrays
that enable him to control how viruses or proteins assemble on
a surface. He aims to find out whether controlling viruses in this
way can facilitate or inhibit their ability to infect a cell. He
has also begun to develop gold nanoparticles that can carry antisense
DNA into a cell to alter gene expression.
Dr. Rob Phillips of the California Institute of Technology is
using the principles of mathematics and physics to describe the
machines within cells, their mechanical responses to various stimuli
and how cells and viruses interact. His group has determined how
bacterial viruses manage their genomes during viral assembly and
infection. Phillips is also building artificial membranes and testing
models that describe the interactions between ion channels and
the lipids they encounter in their membrane environments.
Dr. Stephen Quake of Stanford University designs microchips that
he uses to analyze DNA and single cells and to grow crystallized
proteins. For example, using a chip that partitions microliters
of fluid into thousands of independent chambers that hold only
one molecule per chamber, Quake's group is measuring gene expression
of transcription factors at levels as low as six gene copies.
Dr. Sunney Xie of Harvard University is developing tools to visualize
the actions of a single enzyme or protein inside a living cell.
His aim is to understand how molecular machines function in real
time, individually and together. Xie's group has recently become
the first to observe individual protein molecules being generated
in live Escherichia coli cells.
The symposium agenda is at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/symposium2005.
Attendance is free and there is no need to register.