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Vol. LVIII, No. 18
September 8, 2006

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NIH Scientists, Grantees Honored by White House

Two intramural scientists and 10 grantees are among the 56 researchers who have received the 2005 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the nation's highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. The honorees were feted July 26 at a ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger III, science advisor to the President and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Dr. Sohyun Ahn, principal investigator in the unit on developmental neurogenetics, Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development, NICHD Dr. Daniel Appella, an investigator
with the Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry, NIDDK

The intramural scientists are Dr. Sohyun Ahn of the Laboratory of Mammalian Genes and Development, NICHD, and Dr. Daniel Appella, an investigator with the Laboratory of Bioorganic Chemistry, NIDDK.

Ahn, principal investigator in the unit on developmental neurogenetics in her lab, works on adult neural stem cells and the way they are regulated in the mature brain. She focuses on Sonic Hedgehog-responding cells in the mouse forebrain. Sonic Hedgehog signaling is involved in various aspects of embryonic development; Ahn's study of the behavior of neural stem cells provides in vivo evidence that they self-renew and generate multiple cell types. "We are just starting out here," she says; her lab renovation was completed in March 2006. She sees the PECASE as "an honor, a pat on the back, hoping we have the same potential to do as well as or better than we've done up to now."

Appella is a synthetic organic chemist working at the interface of chemistry and biology. "In a nutshell," he explains, "I make molecules with biological activity, and one reason NIH is a great environment is that there are lots of opportunities to test them." One class of these molecules binds selectively with DNA and RNA sequences. He is trying to couple this with a very sensitive detection of pathogens — in particular, anthrax. He also makes molecules targeted to HIV as well as cancer. "Chemistry could have a great impact on many aspects of the intramural program," he says. "In general, chemical approaches provide a way to start thinking about new therapies and treatments, which could help in the translational aspects of the work at NIH."

The grantees include Drs. Karl Deisseroth of Stanford, Kathryn Derose of RAND Corp., Debra Furr-Holden of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Nace Golding of the University of Texas, Beatriz Luna of the University of Pittsburgh, Tannishtha Reya of Duke University, Kevin Sanbonmatsu of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Melanie Sanford of the University of Michigan, Neal Silverman of the University of Massachusetts and Bruce Yu of the University of Utah.

The PECASE awards, established in 1996, honor the most promising researchers in the nation within their fields. Nine federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers whose work shows exceptional promise. Participating agencies award these researchers up to 5 years of funding to further their investigation.

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