Past Innovation Grant Awardees

Award winners were selected based on the high potential of their research in solving unmet medical problems, and are examples of work that illustrates NUCATS’ mission of accelerating the translation of research discoveries to improve human health.

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3

Round 3 - March 2010 (back to top)

  • Conrad Epting, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will lead research efforts to combat African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) using cancer chemotherapy. The rapidly dividing parasite is sensitive to growth arrest by anticancer drugs. Current therapies for advanced cases are toxic and not available by pill. If proven successful, use of this treatment, which is well tolerated, inexpensive, and off-patent, could be a boon for the resource-challenged nations where sleeping sickness is prevalent. This innovative approach may also be useful in treating other parasitic and fungal infections.

    David Engman, MD, PhD, Professor, Pathology and Microbiology-Immunology; Director, Medical Scientist Training Program, Feinberg School of Medicine, is a collaborator on this project.
  • Nina Kraus, PhD, Hugh Knowles Professor, Communication Sciences; Neurobiology & Physiology; Otolaryngology, School of Communications, is investigating a new hearing test for understanding speech in background noise that is easy to administer and interpret, especially in older adults. It is not well understood why some older adults can hear well in noisy settings and others can not. Dr. Kraus and her team believe that the auditory brainstem is central to the process, and that the stimulus can be modulated and tested to better diagnose and treat the condition, perhaps leading to more effective hearing aids.
  • Amy Paller, MD, Walter J Hamlin Professor and Chair, Department of Dermatology, Professor of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, will study the potential for small interfering RNA in a noninvasive topical treatment for melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Introduction of genetic material into cells and tissues for controlling gene expression has significantly impacted research involving gene pathways and function, and provides promise for therapeutic application. The genetic level approach has inherent specificity not available with the vast majority of drugs, which may increase efficacy and reduce side effects.

    Chad Mirkin, PhD, George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology at Northwestern, is collaborating with Paller on this project.
  • Lonnie Shea, PhD, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is investigating the use of antigen-linked nano/micro-particles to inhibit antigen-specific T-cells for therapy of immune-mediated diseases, building on the pioneering clinical stage work of his collaborator Stephen D. Miller, PhD. Shea and his team will develop and test the efficacy of nano/micro-particles in tolerance induction for prevention of diabetes and reversal of early diabetes in a mouse model. The research could open up islet cell transplantation on a large scale for Type I diabetics and provide a mechanism for reversing disease in newly diagnosed Type I diabetics.

    Stephen D. Miller, PhD, Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology; Director, Immunobiology Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, and Xunrong Luo, Assistant Professor, Division of Nephrology & Hypertension, Feinberg School of Medicine, are collaborators on the project.

Round 2 - June 2009 (back to top)

  • Gokhan M. Mutlu, MD, Associate Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care, FSM, will lead research efforts on a Carbon Nanotube based treatment for lung cancer. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer-related death in the U.S. Conventional chemotherapy and radiation improve mortality by only a slight margin and are further complicated by high systemic toxicity. Nanoparticles, tiny structures with a diameter of less than 100 nm, hold significant potential in providing an alternative for drug delivery and in precisely targeting a tumor without causing harm to adjacent healthy tissues.

    Collaborating with Dr. Mutlu are Mark Hersam, PhD., Materials Science and Engineering, McC, G.R., Scott Budinger, MD, Associate Professor, Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care, FSM, and Navdeep Chandel, PhD., Associate Professor, Medicine and Cell & Molecular Biology, FSM.
  • Andrew C. Larson, PhD., Assistant Professor, Radiology, FSM, and his team are focused on the development of an MRI-guided approach for Irreversible Electroporation (IRE), a new tissue ablation technology for treatment of Hepatocellular Carcinoma, (HCC) a type of liver cancer. IRE targets delivery of electrical pulses to induce cell death through membrane permeablization. This approach removes some of the traditional treatment limitations associated with tissue ablation for HCC such as unintended damage to adjacent blood vessels and normal liver cells and under-treatment of targeted tumor tissue.

    In addition to Dr. Larson, the research team includes Reed Omary, MD, Associate Professor, Cardiovascular Imaging, Interventional Radiology, FSM, and Alan V. Sahakian, PhD., Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering, McC.
  • P. Hande Ozdinler, PhD., Assistant Professor, Neurology, FSM, is working with Martha Bohn, PhD, Pediatrics, CMRC, to design a new method of gene therapy that treats only the specific sub population of cells that are affected by disease. The research project specifically targets the neurons involved in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) but could have application to a wide variety of other diseases.

Round 1 - Feb. 2009 (back to top)

  • Teri Odom, PhD associate professor of chemistry at the Weinberg College of Arts and Ming Zhang, PhD, associate professor of molecular pharmacology and biological chemistry at the Feinberg School of Medicine are collaborating on a project to investigate whether specifically designed nanoparticles offer more efficient treatment in destroying cancer cells while sparing nearby normal cells. Their objective is to design and optimize nanoparticles with molecular bio-markers that can be used in the thermal removal of primary breast cancer cells as well as the metastic tumor cells at distant sites. They hope to prove that particles designed with enhanced localized heating capabilities and containing antibody targets will help determine---for the first time---the optimal conditions for photothermal treatment of breast cancer. If successful, their research will produce a unique class of functional bio-nanomaterials that will revolutionize the treatment of cancer.
  • Phillip Messersmith, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science will be collaborating with Andreas Zisch, head of research in the Department of Obstetrics at the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, one of the foremost experts on fetal membrane rupture. They will determine if a synthetic polymer that mimics the adhesive properties of the mussel could be used to seal fetal membrane ruptures that result in preterm birth and associated morbidity and mortality.

    The substance will be synthesized and tested on human fetal membranes for its ability to create a strong, flexible, and bio-compatible bond. No material tested to date has met the criteria mainly because the tissue being treated is wet or even fully bathed in amniotic fluid, presenting an enormous challenge for most adhesives. Preliminary experiments conducted by the pair showed promise that the mussel’s protein-based adhesive that is unaffected by water can be replicated in a synthetic form. If successful, this research could offer the first means of sealing such a rupture, thus offering an alternative or adjunct to current treatment approaches.
  • Jun Yao, PhD, research assistant professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine is examining a futuristic solution to the challenge many recovering stroke patients face. They often have only minimal control over the muscles in affected hands, wrists and arms, and have difficulty regaining sufficient control over their hand movements.

    She seeks to build on previous work in the field mapping brain signals to infer patient commands, which are then relayed to an electronic device that stimulates the muscles and thus allows the patient to accurately open and close the hand. Dr. Yao has developed a new algorithm and new techniques to increase speed and accuracy over earlier attempts in the field. Since these techniques have seldom been applied to stroke survivors before, Dr. Yao will further modify them to fit the special requirements of stroke survivors. She believes the project will result in a much higher quality of life for stroke survivors.
  • Alice Lyon, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Feinberg School of Medicine and Robert Linsenmeier, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, are working together with collaborators at Feinberg to study the beneficial effects of using supplemental oxygen to treat retinal detachment until surgery for reattachment can take place. A truly translational project, NUCATS is funding the first clinical study to see if patients recover more visual improvement post-surgery when following this protocol.

    Retinal detachments typically occur spontaneously in patients, ages 40 to 60, with high myopia and lattice retinal degeneration. In this condition, the eye is larger than normal and the thin retina can tear. When the retina detaches, the photoreceptors do not have the oxygen they need for survival. Early animal studies in Dr. Linsenmeier's lab showed the positive effect of oxygen supplementation and have led to the hypothesis that similar benefits will prove true in humans. This addition to the existing procedures for the care of macula off retinal detachment could restore vision to the patient’s predetachment level and transform treatment.

Pilot projects are supported by the National Center for Research Resources, Grant UL1RR025741 and additional funds contributed by the Northwestern University Office for Research. For more information on Pilot Funding or to receive updates on Pilot Grant announcements, please contact Nick Maull,