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Rando receives NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for epigenetic inheritance research

High Risk-High-Reward grant a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

October 06, 2014
  Oliver Rando, MD, PhD
  Oliver Rando, MD, PhD

Oliver Rando, MD, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, has received one of 10 highly competitive National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Awards, which challenge investigators at all career levels to develop groundbreaking approaches in a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science. The Pioneer Award program is one of four programs that comprise the High Risk-High Reward initiative supported by the NIH Common Fund. Awardees from previous years have made scientific leaps, established new scientific paradigms and, in some cases, revolutionized entire fields.

“Supporting innovative investigators with the potential to transform scientific fields is a critical element of our mission,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “This program allows researchers to propose highly creative research projects across a broad range of biomedical and behavioral research areas that involve inherent risk but have the potential to lead to dramatic breakthroughs.”

Dr. Rando’s project, Role for small RNAs in sperm in control of offspring metabolism, will focus on how a father’s diet can influence the metabolism of his children. Work from Rando’s lab and several others have linked paternal diet to diseases such as diabetes in the next generation. “Understanding how this works will be incredibly important for understanding complex heritable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease,” he said.

“Dr. Rando’s work is truly pioneering. It has broken down all sorts of preconceived notions about how inheritance works, implicating small RNA molecules in sperm as a means of passing down genetic information from a father to his offspring,” said Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost, dean of the School of Medicine and chief research officer for UMass Medical School.

“I am incredibly appreciative of this award, as it gives me real freedom to pursue this work wherever it takes us,” Rando said of the five-year, $4.2 million grant. “This is a rare luxury in today’s funding climate, although it must be said that this is how all basic research should be done. So I am exceptionally grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

NIH’s High Risk-High Reward initiative comprises the Pioneer, New Innovator, Transformative Research and Early Independence awards. This year, NIH awarded 10 Pioneer awards, 50 New Innovator awards, eight Transformative Research awards and 17 Early Independence awards. The total funding, which represents contributions from the NIH Common Fund and multiple NIH institutes, centers and offices is approximately $141 million.

More information on current awardees and the NIH High Risk-High Reward Research Program can be found at: http://commonfund.nih.gov/highrisk.