Two MIT scientists win 2006 Pioneer Awards

Arup Chakraborty

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Two MIT faculty are among 13 scientists nationwide to receive 2006 Pioneer Awards today from the National Institutes of Health for their "highly innovative research."

Professors Arup K. Chakraborty and James L. Sherley will each receive $2.5 million over five years.

Now in its third year, the Pioneer Award is a key component of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research. The program supports exceptionally creative scientists who take highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research.

"The 2006 Pioneer Award recipients are a diverse group of forward-thinking scientists whose work could transform medical research," said Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the NIH. "The awards will give them the intellectual freedom to pursue exciting new research directions and opportunities in a range of scientific areas, from computational biology to immunology, stem cell biology, nanotechnology and drug development."

Chakraborty, the Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Biological Engineering, is working to "combine the application of theoretical methods rooted in statistical physics and engineering with experiments to determine principles governing the emergence of autoimmune diseases," according to the NIH.

Sherley, an associate professor of biological engineering affiliated with the Center for Cancer Research, is working "to develop routine methods for the production of human adult stem cells from liver, pancreas, hair follicles and bone marrow."

The NIH selected the 2006 Pioneer Award recipients through a special application and evaluation process. After NIH staff determined the eligibility of each of the 465 applicants, the first of three groups of distinguished experts from the scientific community identified the 25 most highly competitive individuals in the pool. The second group of outside experts then interviewed the 25 finalists at NIH in August.

The advisory committee to the director of the NIH performed the final review and made recommendations to Zerhouni based on the evaluations by the first two groups of outside experts and programmatic considerations.

"In addition to supporting outstanding research, the Pioneer Award is an innovation in its own right. It is one way we are exploring funding unconventional ideas that are promising but might not fare well in the traditional peer review system," Zerhouni said.

More information on the Pioneer Award is available at


A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Bioengineering and biotechnology, Health sciences and technology, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty

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