HSCI pilot grants foster innovation and collaboration

To stimulate innovation and collaboration and further expand the community of scientists engaged in stem cell research, several of HSCI’s disease programs initiated pilot grants last year.

Ranging from $36,000 to $100,000 a year, these grants provide resources for Harvard-affiliated principal investigators conducting innovative basic, translational, or clinical research deemed likely to have a significant impact on the field.

While awards are based on the individual scientific strength of each proposal, projects that are collaborative and complement the specific research focus of the particular disease program are encouraged. The first programs to award pilot grants were the Cancer Program and the Kidney Program, which last year funded three and four projects, respectively.

This spring, the Kidney Program and the Blood Diseases Program awarded pilot grants to five investigators at four HSCI-affiliated institutions (see sidebar). The Kidney Program awarded five grants, each for $36,000, for projects to be carried out over six to 12 months. As with the first round of funding, the grants were awarded to investigators conducting innovative projects focused on the kidney’s proximal tubules (components of the nephron, the basic filtering unit of the kidney), as these are most amenable to regenerative therapies.

One project is aimed at figuring out how non-mammalian vertebrates, like zebrafish, are able to generate new nephrons throughout their lives, in contrast to mammals, including humans, who lose this ability after 36 weeks of gestation. Answering this fundamental question might suggest new ways to repair damaged human kidneys, thus dramatically extending and improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients with chronic kidney failure.

The Blood Diseases Program awarded one pilot grant for $100,000 a year for up to two years. This project will focus on characterizing the role of metabolism in the induction and regulation of hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells. This work will shed light on the effects of metabolic disorders such as childhood obesity and gestational diabetes on the hematopoietic system.

HSCI 2011 Pilot Grant Recipients

Kidney Disease Program
Principal Investigator Institution
Joseph Bonventre, MD, PhD Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Iain Drummond, PhD Massachusetts General Hospital
Robert Handin, MD Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Andrew McMahon, PhD Harvard University
Blood Diseases Program
Principal Investigator Institution
Trista North, PhD Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center