Four Duke researchers win NIH New Innovator Awards

Young scientists receive funding for their highly inventive research.

Biophysicist Nicolas Buchler is one of four Duke scientists to win the NIH Director's New Innovator Award. Image courtesy of Nicolas Buchler.

Four Duke University scientists are winners of the 2011 National Institutes of Health, or NIH, Director's New Innovator Award.

The award recognizes researchers at the start of their career, when they may not yet have the preliminary data required to receive traditional NIH funding. Seok-Yong Lee, David Tobin, Nicolas Buchler and Charles Gersbach earned the honor for their highly innovative research and promise as young, developing scientists. Seok-Yong Lee, an assistant professor in the Duke Department of Biochemistry and member of the Duke Ion Channel Research Unit, will use the funds to uncover the chemical and physical secrets of ion channels, which help critical processes occur at lightning speed throughout the body.  David Tobin, an assistant professor in the Duke Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, plans to extend an interesting idea from his postdoctoral work to the development of "personalized" therapies for tuberculosis. Nicolas Buchler is an assistant professor with joint appointment in the departments of biology and physics and also an investigator in the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. He will use his award to develop computer simulations and lab experiments in yeast to understand the extent to which the single-celled organisms' gene networks can "learn" and predict the statistical regularities of their environment. Charles Gersbach, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, plans to develop technologies to create new therapies for muscular dystrophy or heart disease by regenerating new cells to replace faulty or missing ones. This involves reprogramming the gene expression of easily accessible cells, such as a patient's own skin cells, to create new muscle, bone, cartilage, blood vessel or heart tissue cell types. Gersbach, Buchler, Tobin and Seok-Yong Lee are among the 49 scientists that the NIH expects to grant New Innovator Awards to this year. The agency expects to provide approximately $117.5 million to the winners, an average of about $1.5 million per winner over a five-year period.