Three UC Irvine scientists have been named recipients of the prestigious 2013 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's New Innovator Awards, which comes with $2.3 million each for five years to help fund their respective research in vaccinations, the adult brain and gene regulation.
Aaron Esser-Kahn, Sunil Gandhi and Ali Mortazavi are among 41 investigators to receive the award, and UCI joins Stanford, UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley as the only institutions to have three honorees.
Esser-Kahn, an assistant professor of chemistry in the School of Physical Sciences, will use his New Innovator Award to boost his efforts to understand vaccine effectiveness by looking at the structure of its molecular components, according to the university's announcement. By uncovering this "molecular code," Esser-Kahn believes this research can aid in the development of safer, more targeted vaccines, UCI adds.
Gandhi, an assistant professor of neurobiology & behavior in the School of Biological Sciences, will parlay his award into studying whether transplanting a type of nerve cell that dampens activity can rewire neural pathways in the adult brain, a process called neuroplasticity, reveals UCI. His findings could help repair damage caused by traumatic brain injury, stroke or neurodegenerative disease and even enhance behavioral therapies for psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
Earlier this year, Gandhi was named one of 15 Searle Scholars, an award that recognize innovative biomedical and chemistry research by young faculty, notes UCI.
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Mortazavi, an assistant professor of developmental & cell biology in the School of Biological Sciences, is exploring how DNA codes the precise activities of genes involved with development. He believes his research will identify fundamental principles of gene regulation as well as the specific DNA elements critical to stem cell differentiation, according to UCI.
"It's rare that an institution is home to more than one New Innovator recipient in one year, and that UC Irvine has three is a testament to the robust environment that encourages our early-career research faculty members," say John Hemminger, vice chancellor of research, in the university announcement. "Aaron, Sunil and Ali are exceptional scientists, and we are proud that the NIH, in this age of sequestration, has chosen to support their visionary work."