The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that Arthur Laganowsky, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston, is a recipient of the NIH director’s New Innovator Award. The award, established in 2007, supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant.
Part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research (HRHR) program, supported by the NIH Common Fund, a total of 88 grants were awarded to highly creative and exceptional scientists with bold approaches to major challenges in biomedical research. The awards total approximately $127 million, of which Laganowsky will receive $2.2 million over five years to investigate eukaryotic potassium channels using native ion mobility mass spectrometry.
“This award gives us the opportunity to push our research into exciting new areas,” Laganowsky said. He is a structural biologist that works on membrane proteins and how lipids influence their structure and function. “We don’t know how lipids exert their effects on the molecular level, but we do know they are incredibly important,” he continued. “I hope to push our research program into a new era of membrane protein research as a result of this award.”
Understanding the molecular implications for disease by uncovering both the chemical diversity of lipid molecules and how they affect membrane proteins will have implications for both the molecular basis of disease and eventually development of new drugs for the treatment of a number of different diseases. Laganowsky’s recent work, featured as the cover article of the journal Nature, discovered how lipids modulate the structure and function of channels responsible for the transport of ammonia and water into cells.
One way his approach is different is in the use of technology: His lab is one of the first in the United States to use a specialized mass spectrometer to resolve and interrogate individual lipid binding events to membrane proteins.
The NIH traditionally supports research projects, not individual investigators. However, the HRHR program seeks to identify scientists with ideas that have the potential for high impact, but may be at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process. These awards encourage creative, outside-the-box thinkers to pursue exciting and innovative ideas in biomedical research.
“The program continues to support high-caliber investigators whose ideas stretch the boundaries of our scientific knowledge,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “We welcome the newest cohort of outstanding scientists to the program and look forward to their valuable contributions.”
“The New Innovator Awards are the NIH’s equivalent of the McArthur Awards,” said Peter Davies, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Institute of Biosciences and Technology. “We are delighted that Dr. Laganowsky has been recognized as one of these outstanding young investigators.”