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2019 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Recipients in Cancer Research


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Jennifer H. Elisseeff, PhD

Jennifer H. Elisseeff, PhD

Valentina Greco, PhD

Valentina Greco, PhD

The National Institutes of Health(NIH) has recently announced the names of two recipients of the 2019 Director’s Pioneer Awards whose research focuses on cell biology: Jennifer H. Elisseeff, PhD, is focusing onregenerative immunotherapies, and Valentina Greco, PhD, is studying the role of stem cells in tissue regeneration. This award is open to researchers at any stage of their career and grants recipients $700,000 in direct costs per year for up to 5 years.

Established as part of the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program in 2004, the Director’s Pioneer Awards support scientists with outstanding records of creativity in pursuing new research directions to develop pioneering approaches to major challenges in biomedical, social science, and behavioral research. The program seeks to identify scientists with high-impact ideas that may be too risky or at too early a stage to fare well in the traditional peer-review process.

Biomaterials-Directed Regenerative Therapies

Dr. Elisseeff is the Morton Goldberg Professor at the Translational Tissue Engineering Center at Johns Hopkins University. Her winning proposal, titled “Biomaterials-Directed Regenerative Immunotherapies,” is working at the interface of biomaterials, regenerative medicine, and immunology—a redirection in research inspired by the clinical translation of her therapeutic biomaterials.

Establishing the field of biomaterials-directed regenerative immunology led to her discoveries of adaptive immune profiles associated with regeneration and fibrosis in biomaterial responses. Understanding and subsequently manipulating the immune system may offer novel approaches for the design of regenerative immunotherapies applicable to tissue repair in numerous clinical indications.

Dr. Elisseeff received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carnegie Mellon and a PhD in medical engineering from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She is a member of the National Academies of Engineering, Medicine, and Inventors.

Mutational Burden and Aging

Born in Palermo, Italy, Dr. Greco is currently the Carolyn Walch Slayman Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Dermatology Departments and a member of the Yale Stem Cell Center and Yale Cancer Center at the Medical School of Yale University. Her project, titled, “Defining the Role of Mutational Burden in Sustaining Normal Homeostasis During Aging,” and her lab focus on trying to understand how stem cells and their environment contribute to organ regeneration, as well as how deviation from the steady state are dealt by the tissue, tracking the same cells over time in live mice. This work has provided unprecedented insights into tissue regeneration, which relies upon the coordinated activation of resident stem cells and their environment, and into key signaling pathways controlling dynamic stem cell behaviors and decisions.

Dr. Greco earned her undergraduate degree in molecular biology at the University of Palermo; her PhD with Suzanne Eaton at the EMBL/MPI-CBG, Germany; and her postdoctorate with Elaine Fuchs at Rockefeller University. 


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