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Creative projects receive Innovation Grant Awards

Innovation Grant Awards

Martyn D. Goulding
Professor
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Shreekanth Chalasani
Assistant Professor
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Xin Jin
Assistant Professor
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Christopher R. Kintner
Professor
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory

Four faculty members have been selected as the latest recipients of Salk Innovation Grants. The program encourages scientific innovation by supporting risk-taking projects that are unlikely to be funded by traditional sources. The grants were awarded through the Innovation Research Fund, which was established in 2006 by Irwin Jacobs, chairman of the Salk board of trustees.

The competition is held twice each year; in the most recent round, the four projects were chosen from a field of ten. Martyn Goulding, in collaboration with Edward Callaway, will extend Callaway's work on tracing neural circuits. Shreekanth Chalasani's lab will develop a method to do rapid 3D imaging of neuronal activity in the worm C. elegans, established as a model organism for neurobiology by Salk Nobel laureate Sidney Brenner. Xin Jin, who is developing a way to make wireless brain recordings, will seek to understand how mice learn under natural conditions. Chris Kintner will perform a genome-wide analysis of an essential step in the process of gene expression.

From its inception, the Innovation Research Fund has proven the value of well-targeted money at an early stage of research. Thirty-four projects were supported and completed between 2007 and 2011, and so far, a $5.4 million investment has been leveraged to obtain $28 million of new research funding, with results reported in 15 publications, including the high-impact journals Cell, Nature, PNAS and Neuron. One of the early triumphs was Callaway's success in showing that a modified rabies virus could be used to label partner cells across neuronal synapses—a technique that allows for the identification of cells that form a circuit within living brain tissue. Even before the results were published, more than 30 laboratories had requested the modified virus, demonstrating that developing innovative tools can have as much of an impact on biomedical research as breakthrough results.