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NCCIH Research Blog

NCCIH Will Administer Three Groundbreaking New Projects Through the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program

October 3, 2023

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.

Emmeline Edwards, Ph.D.


Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

I am thrilled to announce that the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) will administer three new high-impact research projects through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) High-Risk, High-Reward Research (HRHR) program. 

The HRHR program supports highly innovative research that has the potential to lead to major advances in biomedical or behavioral science but might not fare well in the traditional peer review process. Funding for the awards comes from the NIH Common Fund and other NIH Office of the Director appropriations, such as to NIH Institutes and Centers, including NCCIH. The program includes different types of funding opportunities for trailblazing research by investigators at various stages of their careers. 

I have been a longtime member of the NIH-wide committee for the HRHR program. It has been a great way for NCCIH to bring outstanding investigators to our portfolio and leverage Common Fund resources for exciting, unconventional research. This year’s NCCIH awardees exemplify the exceptional creativity characteristic of the HRHR program: 

  • Dr. Nathan C. Crook of North Carolina State University Raleigh has received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for his project, “Brewing anti-toxin drugs using probiotic yeast.” Dr. Crook will use a new, rapid approach that harnesses Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s yeast) to identify drugs that “disarm” disease-causing bacteria by neutralizing the toxins they produce, thereby providing a new way to treat infections, including those resistant to traditional antibiotics. The yeast will be engineered to produce the drugs directly in the gut, thereby delivering them directly to the sites of diseases such as Clostridium difficile infection. 
    • The New Innovator Award, which will support Dr. Crook’s work, is designed to support especially 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.
  • Dr. Mandë Holford of Hunter College has received an NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for her project, “Charting the evolutionary development of novel genes and the molecular mechanisms of gland tissue organization in cephalopods.” Cephalopods are the class of animals that includes squids and octopi. Dr. Holford will investigate how venoms and venom glands develop in these animals and establish transgenic cephalopods as model systems for further research. Studies of venom production have fueled drug discovery efforts, leading to breakthrough treatments for a wide range of conditions. Dr. Holford’s new project will expand the field of venom research by providing tools and models to tackle research questions that could not previously be explored.
    • The Pioneer Award, which will support Dr. Holford’s work, enables investigators at all career levels to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad topic area.
  • Dr. Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues have received an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award for their project, “Unraveling microprotein biology with an evolutionary–immunological framework.” This team of investigators will use state-of-the-art techniques to study the innate immune function and autoimmune potential of “microproteins,” a unique, poorly understood group of small proteins that evolve at a remarkably rapid pace. The long-term goals of this research are to identify novel treatments for autoimmune diseases and to understand the forces that govern microprotein biology. 
    • The Transformative Research Award, which will support this work, promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approaches and is open to individuals and teams who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.

I look forward to seeing the exciting scientific advances that may come from these visionary, cutting-edge projects.

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