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The National Institutes of Health announced 93 awards to fund highly innovative, high-impact biomedical research as part of its High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program.

Wesley Legant, PhD, assistant professor in the departments of pharmacology and biomedical engineering, and Hyejung Won, PhD, assistant professor of genetics, were selected as NIH Director’s New Innovator Award recipients this week. Legant will receive $2.2 million and Won will receive $2.3 million to support innovative biomedical research.

Legant, a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will develop cutting edge microscopy and microfluidic devices and techniques to monitor single molecule dynamics over time in differentiating cells. His lab’s research could establish a foundation of knowledge for how gene expression is regulated in both normal and disease settings. Earlier this year, Legant was honored as a Searle Scholar and a Beckman Young Investigator.

Won, a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center, will leverage innovative genomics approaches to bridge the gap between genetic risk factors and neurobiological mechanisms by mapping genetic variants of unknown function to the genes that they regulate. Her lab will also work to identify how dysfunctional gene regulation contributes to the development of disease. She is also a recipient of NIH Pathway to Independence Award and the NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The National Institutes of Health awarded 93 grants totaling approximately $267 million over the next five years through its High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program to fund highly innovative and unusually impactful biomedical or behavioral research proposed by extraordinarily creative scientists. Examples of supported research include exploring how the brain maximizes storage capacity, developing a new approach to treating bacterial infections without the use of antibiotics, understanding the genetic rules that allow one cell type to convert to another, and uncovering a novel potent method for treating adolescent depression. The 93 awards total approximately $267 million over five years, pending available funds in future years.

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program is part of the NIH Common Fund, which oversees programs that pursue major opportunities and gaps throughout the research enterprise that are of great importance to NIH and require collaboration across the agency to succeed.

UNC School of Medicine contact: Mark Derewicz, 984-974-1915