Dr. Meng Wang, associate professor in the Huffington Center on Aging and the department of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award.
Totaling $3.5 million in direct costs, the NIH Pioneer Award will support Wang’s work in identifying new strategies to improve human health and longevity.
Wang’s project will harness the power of functional genomics and metabolomics and test a new conceptual idea for metabolite-directed signaling communication.
“Metabolites are natural molecules and excellent targets for determining human metabolic homeostasis and longevity, but these molecules have proven difficult to study in vivo in the past,” said Wang. “This is something that not many people have proposed before, and this award supports these kinds of high-risk, high-reward projects that could make a large impact on human health.”
She notes that the submission process was very collaborative among the various departments at Baylor, an advantage that provided varied expertise and a multidisciplinary approach to the project and displays the supportive research environment at Baylor.
“Meng Wang is one of our brightest young stars at Baylor. Her Pioneer Award is an ingenious and highly creative breakthrough approach to defining small molecules that are the chemical ‘words’ in a language between cells, a language that we do not yet understand that controls organisms, their health and fates, and whether they live long and healthy lives or age and become susceptible to cancers and other diseases,” said Dr. Susan Rosenberg, professor of molecular and human genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology, and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor.
Rosenberg, also leader of the cancer evolvability program in Baylor’s NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, explained that, ultimately, Wang’s method will define the chemical language of cells, change how many biological problems are studied and may lead to what Wang calls nutriceuticals, or food-like molecules that can prevent or treat disease.
Dr. Chrisophe Herman, associate professor of molecular and human genetics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor, added, “With the Pioneer Award, Meng is going to be the first cellular-linguistic anthropologist, exploring the ancestral language used by the cell to communicate with its different parts, as well as the most important exogenous compartment of all: bacteria. She will also develop powerful tools to accelerate genetic screens in worms, because genetics never lies.”
A program of the NIH Common Fund, the Pioneer Award supports scientists and researchers with outstanding creative minds who propose pioneering and highly innovative approaches with the potential to produce unusually high impact on biomedical or behavioral research.
“The NIH Pioneer Award encourages the investigator to start thinking big about the larger picture to develop a truly unique project, which I think is critical to experience,” said Wang.
Overall, the mission of the NIH Common Fund programs is to provide a strategic approach to addressing key roadblocks in biomedical research that impede basic scientific discovery and its translation into improved human health.