July 18, 2002


WORCESTER, Mass. ¾ Phillip D. Zamore, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has been named to the 2002 class of W.M. Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research. Instituted in 1998, the Young Scholars Program is a five-year, $25 million initiative designed to support groundbreaking research into the fundamental mechanisms of human disease by a select group of investigators who exhibit extraordinary promise early in their careers. UMMS will receive up to $1 million to support Dr. Zamore’s research activities for up to five years, and purchase necessary equipment and resources to facilitate those activities. Five additional investigators will be chosen in the next year for a total class of 25 Young Scholars.


“This exceptionally generous award will allow me to explore new areas of research and to take on new challenges. To me it is proof of the wonderful environment for science we have at UMass,” said Zamore. The Keck award will help further his team’s research into ribonucleic acid interference (RNAi), one of the newest and most puzzling phenomena in basic science today. The concept of RNAi, pioneered by another UMMS scientist, Craig Mello, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and associate professor of cell biology, is defined as the ability of double-stranded ribonucleic acid to destroy its homologous message when injected into cells, effectively turning off a targeted gene. Zamore’s research is focused on identifying the biochemical machinery that brings about RNAi. Specifically, his team is using extracts from fly embryos and human cells, purified in the test tube, in hopes of understanding the phenomena’s components at the molecular level― research that may eventually form the basis for a new class of drugs to treat human disease, including viral infections and some genetic disorders.


“Dr. Zamore is an outstanding young investigator whose efforts to understand the mechanistic basis of RNAi will enhance its applications to fundamental problems in biochemistry and to the treatment of a host of pathologies ranging from cancer to neurodegenerative diseases. His receipt of this award is a testament to his obvious talents and to the fertile research environment provided by UMMS,” said C. Robert Matthews, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology at UMMS. For his work, Zamore was also named one of 20 Pew Scholars chosen nationwide in 2000. Presented by the Pew Charitable Trusts to America’s “most promising biomedical researchers,” the funding is awarded annually to junior faculty at medical schools and research institutions nationwide to help “advance the state of knowledge in the biomedical sciences and encourage scholarly innovation in research.” A national philanthropic organization based in Philadelphia, the Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit activities in the areas of conservation and the environment, culture, education, health and human services, public policy and religion. Through their grantmaking, the Trusts seek to encourage individual development and personal achievement, cross-disciplinary problem solving and innovative, practical approaches to meet the changing needs of society.


After assessing the UMMS group’s aptitude for carrying forward groundbreaking basic medical research, their potential for making a significant impact in the field of biomedicine, and their capacity for future academic leadership, the Keck Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that Dr. Zamore and colleagues in his laboratory showed great potential in all three areas. “In addition to recognizing the accomplishments and potential of Dr. Zamore and his colleagues, this award reflects and confirms UMMS’s growing reputation and influence as an academic health sciences center of national distinction,” said UMMS Chancellor and Dean Aaron Lazare, MD, who nominated Zamore for the Keck grant.


The W. M. Keck Foundation is one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company in California. The foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on the areas of medical research, science and engineering. Reflecting Mr. Keck’s life as a pioneer, innovator and risk taker, the foundation seeks out research that opens new directions and could lead to breakthrough discoveries and the development of new technologies. Its Medical Research Grant Program focuses on basic biomedical research in the areas of neuroscience, immunology, molecular genetics and structural biology. The Distinguished Young Scholars Program specifically addresses the difficulty young investigators have historically had in securing traditional sources of funding early in their careers, despite the fact that this period is often when they make their boldest discoveries.


The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $134 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources.  Research funding enables UMMS scientists to explore human disease from the molecular level to large-scale clinical trials.  Basic and clinical research leads to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.



Sandra Gray, 508-856-2000