First NIH Director's Pioneer Award Recipients Named


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected the first recipients of the NIH Directors Pioneer Award, a program designed to support individual scientists and thinkers with highly innovative ideas and approaches to contemporary challenges in biomedical research. A central component of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, the Directors Pioneer Award was established in January 2004 to encourage exceptional researchers and thinkers from multiple disciplines to conduct high-risk, high-impact research related to the improvement of human health.

We are extremely pleased by the overwhelming number and caliber of nominations we received, said NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD. By bringing the awardees unique perspectives and creativity to bear on key medical research questions, these scientific Pioneers may one day develop seminal theories or technologies that will propel science forward to improve human health.

To inaugurate this new program, the NIH will provide $500,000 in direct costs per year for five years to each Pioneer Award recipient, allowing them the time and resources to test far-ranging ideas with the potential to make extraordinary contributions to medical research.

The awardees are listed below:

  • Larry Abbott, PhD, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
  • George Daley, MD, PhD, Childrens Hospital Boston, Boston, MA
  • Homme Hellinga, PhD, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC
  • Joseph McCune, MD, PhD, J. David Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, CA
  • Steven McKnight, PhD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX
  • Chad Mirkin, PhD, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
  • Rob Phillips, PhD, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
  • Stephen Quake, PhD, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
  • Sunney Xie, PhD, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The nine recipients represent a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines including quantitative and mathematical biology, pathogenesis, epidemiology and translational clinical research, molecular and cellular biology, integrative physiology, instrumentation and bioengineering.

Applicants underwent a rigorous nomination and selection process to establish which among them appeared to hold the greatest potential for addressing critical scientific questions that would greatly impact biomedical science and health care. Nominees and applicants were expected to demonstrate commitment to accepting considerable risk in addressing critically important scientific questions relevant to the mission of the NIH.

External evaluators representing a broad range of scientific disciplines screened approximately 1,000 nominations and recommended that a subset of 240 nominees be invited to submit award applications. Further review by external evaluators resulted in the selection of 21 candidates, who were invited to the NIH for interviews and to present their ideas. The recommendations of the panel of external evaluators who interviewed the 21 candidates were considered by the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), NIH, and by the NIH Director, himself.

The applicants were evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Evidence of scientific innovation and creativity;
  • Testimony of intrinsic motivation, enthusiasm and intellectual energy; and
  • Potential for scientific leadership and evidence of, or potential for, effective communication skills.

For more information on the NIH Directors Pioneer Award Program, including awardee information, please visit the Web site at

Source: NIH

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