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Wistar Institute researcher receives 'New Innovator' award from NIH

A Wistar Institute researcher's novel approach to understanding genetic causes of human disease has earned him an NIH Director's New Innovator Award and grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Ken-ichi Noma, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Wistar's Gene Expression and Regulation Program, is working to develop a new method of mapping the three-dimensional structure of the human genome. These efforts aim to identify the molecular basis for many diseases, including cancers, and may aid in the development of new diagnostic tests and treatments.

New Innovator Awards support exceptionally creative scientists who take highly innovative and often unconventional approaches to major challenges in biomedical or behavioral research. Winners receive a grant of $1.5 million over five years to support their work. Only early-career investigators who have not yet received a major NIH grant are eligible. Noma is one of 31 researchers worldwide who received the grants this year.

"It's an honor to receive this award, which is a vote of confidence in my idea," Noma says. "The grant will allow me to pursue this line of research, which could have a huge impact. This work has the potential to elucidate an extremely important but poorly understood aspect of human disease."

The human genome exists in the cell nucleus as a complex, three-dimensional entity, the structure of which is disorganized in certain diseases, including cancers. However, it is unclear how the organization of the genome influences disease development. One impediment to understanding that process is an inability to accurately measure, in any given cell, the three-dimensional structure of the chromosomes that contain DNA. Noma proposes to develop a novel system for decoding that structure. Doing so could shed light on the molecular basis of numerous human diseases.

"Original, inventive ideas are what drive Wistar's lifesaving advances in biomedical research," notes Wistar President and CEO Russel E. Kaufman, M.D. "Dr. Noma exemplifies the energy and creativity that will lead to new solutions to today's major medical challenges.

His innovative approach to defining the structure of the human genome holds great potential for helping us understand the genetic basis of cancer and many other diseases."

Noma's work as a scientist has been marked by ingenuity. As a graduate student in the bioengineering department at Nagaoka University in Japan, he developed a strain of carrot that could grow in the desert. While a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of geneticist Shiv Grewal, Ph.D., at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, he mapped an uncharted region of the fission yeast genome and published the results in Science a notable feat for a fledgling researcher. He went on to further elucidate genome dynamics in fission yeast as a staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where he worked prior to joining Wistar in September 2007. Noma's extensive research on yeast informs his current work with the human genome.

In announcing the New Innovator Awards, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., said, "Nothing is more important to me than stimulating and sustaining deep innovation, especially for early career investigators and despite challenging budgetary times. These highly creative researchers are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and radically shift our understanding."


Contact: Abbey J. Porter
The Wistar Institute

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