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Paul Greer selected for NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Research will focus on mutations within the Ms4a family of genes

Paul L. Greer, PhD

Paul L. Greer, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine, has received a 2019 National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, an honor reserved for exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects within the NIH mission.

“I’m honored and grateful to have received this award and am excited about the direction it could take us. This support will allow us to pursue a type of research I think would have been very difficult to pursue otherwise,” Dr. Greer said.

Greer will focus his research on mutations within the Ms4a family of genes, which scientists have identified as being one of the leading causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Paul is a role model for molecular medicine because his basic science discoveries on olfaction have had a surprising impact on a completely unrelated medical field—Alzheimer’s disease. It is this type of serendipitous discovery that makes biomedical science exciting and also leads to major therapeutic breakthroughs,” said Roger J. Davis, PhD, FRS, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the H. Arthur Smith Chair in Cancer Research, chair and professor of molecular medicine. “He is an outstanding scientist and is most deserving of the prestigious award.”

Greer is one of 60 scientists selected for the five-year, $2.5 million award that is part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which identifies scientists with high-impact ideas that may be risky or at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer review process and encourages creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to pursue innovative and exciting ideas.

“Each year, I look forward to seeing the creative approaches these researchers take to solve tough problems in biomedical and behavioral research,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “I am confident the 2019 cohort of awardees has the potential to advance our mission of enhancing health through their groundbreaking studies.”

Greer completed his doctoral studies in the lab of Michael Greenberg, PhD, the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, and trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Sandeep Robert Datta, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, where Greer uncovered a novel mechanism by which vertebrates sense behaviorally relevant olfactory stimuli.

His lab at UMass Medical School is broadly interested in the fundamental questions of how animals sense and interpret chemical signals to generate appropriate organismal responses and how these processes are disrupted in human neurological disorders. One particularly important chemical sensing cell is the microglia, the resident immune cell of the brain. With support from the NIH award, the Greer lab will focus on a set of mutations in a family of genes known as Ms4a that occur in microglia. The goal of Greer’s project is to better identify the role of these cells in the brain under physiological situations and to explore how the mutations affect Alzheimer’s pathology. Greer’s lab hopes to leverage what researchers know about these cells and Ms4a genes to develop new therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer’s.

“Because Ms4a genes encode chemoreceptors, proteins that are druggable targets, our hope is that this work will ultimately lead to the generation of new therapeutic approaches for treating this horrible neurodegenerative disorder,” Greer said.

In addition to the NIH award, Greer’s Ms4a research is also supported by the Rita Allen Foundation, the Smith Family Program and the Searle Scholars Program.