CSHL cancer researcher Gregory Hannon wins NIH’s prestigious MERIT Award
Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Professor Gregory Hannon, Ph.D., of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, has won a MERIT Award from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). This prestigious award, which stands for Method to Extend Research in Time, recognizes highly productive scientists by extending funding for an existing research project grant.
A leader in the field of small RNA biology, Hannon has sought to understand the biological roles of small RNAs and the underlying mechanisms by which they operate. He and colleagues have identified and characterized many of the protein complexes, including Dicer and RISC, that generate and process small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs).
Hannon has been a pioneer in harnessing RNA interference. RNAi is a natural cellular mechanism implicated in gene regulation and in genome defense that has been mobilized by scientists to hunt for cancer genes, to stop viral infections, and most recently, on an exploratory basis, to treat human diseases. Hannon’s lab more broadly strives to understand the biology of cancer cells, with a focus on breast and pancreatic cancer, and on the biological mechanisms of resistance to targeted cancer treatments.
Over the past several years, Hannon’s team has broken new ground by focusing on the roles of small RNAs in sex cells, sperm and ovaries. These cells tend to have the most elaborate set of small RNA pathways of any cell type. They have found that a class of small RNA molecules called piwi-interacting RNAs, or piRNAs, are central players in a pathway that defends the genome of mammals from mobile genetic elements, repeating bits of DNA which can disrupt the transfer of genetic information from parents to offspring.
"NIGMS selected Dr. Hannon for a MERIT Award to recognize his remarkable record of discoveries on how small RNA molecules regulate gene expression and help ensure that the genome is passed faithfully from parents to their offspring," said Michael Bender, Ph.D., NIGMS. “His work is likely to yield many additional insights into the biology of small RNAs, and also has the potential to lead to new, RNA-based treatments for cancer and other diseases.”
“Thanks to support from NIGMS, we discovered a mechanism by which the genomes in the germ cells of all animals are protected from the damage that transposons cause. The MERIT Award allows us to continue our work, focusing on how this immunity mechanism operates and to probe the full range of its biological functions in preserving the integrity of the germ line passed on from generation to generation.”
Under the MERIT Award program, Hannon’s research was selected from the pool of all current fiscal-year competing R01 grants across the National Institutes of Health. At any given time, NIGMS supports more than 4700 grants and awards and only a handful meet the criteria for the MERIT program which intended to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner.
“Congratulations to Dr. Hannon on this award, which recognizes the invaluable contributions that he and his lab at CSHL have made to understanding RNA biology and putting it to use as a clinical tool to fight cancer,” said CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman. “The MERIT Award is an important demonstration of public confidence in innovative basic biomedical research and is a critical investment the NIH makes in the well-being our nation’s citizens.”
Dr. Hannon’s current work is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Science of the National Institutes of Health under award number R37 GM062534.
About the NIH MERIT Award
The objective of the MERIT Award is to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner. Support to such investigators is expected to foster their continued creativity and spare them the administrative burdens associated with preparation and submission of full-length research grant applications. This may allow investigators the opportunity to take greater risks, be more adventurous in their lines of inquiry, or take the time to develop new techniques. After an initial five years of support, the MERIT awardee may request an extension of three to five years based on an eight-page progress report and a one-page abstract of the research plan for the extension period.
About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. CSHL is ranked number one in the world by Thomson Reuters for impact of its research in molecular biology and genetics. The Laboratory has been home to eight Nobel Prize winners. Today, CSHL's multidisciplinary scientific community is more than 600 researchers and technicians strong and its Meetings & Courses program hosts more than 12,000 scientists from around the world each year to its Long Island campus and its China center. Tens of thousands more benefit from the research, reviews, and ideas published in journals and books distributed internationally by CSHL Press. The Laboratory's education arm also includes a graduate school and programs for undergraduates as well as middle and high school students and teachers. CSHL is a private, not-for-profit institution on the north shore of Long Island. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.