News from the Kirkegaard Laboratory

Karla Kirkegaard, Ph.D., Wins 2006 NIH Director's Pioneer Award

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September 19, 2006 - Bethesda, MD -- Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, today named 13 recipients of the 2006 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award.

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 Zerhouni. “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.”

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 2006.

The Advisory Committee to the Director, 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 of funding unconventional ideas that are promising but might not fare well in the traditional peer review system,” Zerhouni noted.

“I am pleased that enthusiasm for the Pioneer Award program led a record number of NIH components— 11 in all — to contribute their own funds to the program this year, allowing us to support nearly twice as many awards as the NIH Roadmap budget provided,” Zerhouni added.

Karla KirkegaardKarla Kirkegaard, Ph.D.
Stanford University School of Medicine

Karla Kirkegaard, Ph.D., is professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine. She received a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University in 1983. Kirkegaard has combined her interests in biochemistry, cell biology, and genetics to develop an approach to guide the selection of antiviral targets, with the goal of suppressing the drug-resistant RNA genomes that will inevitably be formed due to the high error rates of RNA replication. She will use her Pioneer Award to pursue the identification of dominant drug targets for the RNA genomes of the hepatitis C, polio, West Nile, and dengue viruses. She will also quantify the extent to which antiviral compounds targeted at the identified molecules suppress drug-resistant variant growth. Kirkegaard’s honors include a fellowship from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a Searle Scholar Award, and an Ellison Foundation Senior Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease.

Copyright 2006 - 2007. The Laboratory of Karla Kirkegaard, Ph.D. All rights reserved.