Advancing Discovery

Harvard Medical School website, other HMS channels, September 12, 2022 https://hms.harvard. ... -discovery

Advancing Discovery Dean’s Innovation Awards paved way for external research funding

By DENNIS NEALON September 12, 2022 Research

11 min read


Image: Totojang/iStock/Getty Images Plus


The road to illuminating the biological mysteries of the human body is filled with hurdles, not the least of which is the daunting task of obtaining funding to support early-stage discoveries.

At Harvard Medical School, the Dean’s Innovation Awards addressed that challenge by providing catalytic early support for research projects probing some of the most confounding questions in biomedicine, such as the molecular roots of congenital heart disease, what fuels and regulates the brain’s energy consumption, and the interaction between the immune and nervous systems during infection.

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Established by HMS Dean George Q. Daley in 2018, the awards program will conclude in 2023. It was designed to boost discovery science; catalyze collaborations; advance technology development; cultivate promising therapeutics projects; and improve health care quality, delivery, costs, and access. In all, more than $29 million was invested across the HMS community, supporting 92 projects involving 169 project leaders at 15 institutions.

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The majority of these projects involved fundamental, curiosity-driven science led by faculty in the 11 basic and social science departments comprising the Blavatnik Institute at HMS. Twenty-five percent of the grants involved co-investigators at HMS’ affiliated hospitals and research institutes.

The impact of the Dean’s Innovation Awards continues today, as several researchers who received support said the program was critical in generating follow-on grants from external sources, such as the federal government, nonprofit organizations, and industry.

For example, of the 23 projects funded in 2018 by the Dean’s Innovation Grants in the Basic and Social Sciences, at least 12 thus far have reported receiving follow-on funding from external sources. Other funded projects — some slowed by COVID — remain ongoing.

“The Dean’s Innovation Awards were intended to seed creative new collaborative projects,” said Daley. “We’re proud to have catalyzed these efforts and are thrilled to see that many of our faculty have secured the follow-on funding needed to sustain their critically important research.”

Dean’s Innovation Award Projects

Here are just a few examples of projects that received seed money from the Dean’s Innovation Awards and subsequently obtained external funding based on that early work:


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    How the brain copes with changing energy demands Mass spectrometry metabolomics in brain slice with time- and cell-type resolution

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    How the immune and nervous systems interact during inflammation Neural control of infection responses and sickness behavior

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    Probing protein function Proteasome regulation and the ubiquitin code

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    Tracking the trillion bugs that live in the intestines Immunomodulatory metabolites from human gut bacteria

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    Understanding how congenital heart disease arises Epigenetic landscape of cardiomyocyte differentiation and congenital heart disease