University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Seven UCSF Scientists Receive NIH ‘Blue-Sky’ Research Awards

High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program Supports ‘Creative’, ‘Bold’ Scientists Tackling Major Biomedical Challenges

By Nicholas Weiler | | October 4, 2016

Seven UCSF Scientists Receive NIH ‘Blue-Sky’ Research Awards

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded grants to seven UC San Francisco scientists to pursue innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. The highly competitive grants, which were announced today among 88 such awards nationwide, were made under the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program supported by the NIH Common Fund. The grants include the Pioneer Award, the New Innovator Award and the Early Independence Award.

Four UCSF researchers received the New Innovator Award, which supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their doctoral degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant (R01) or equivalent NIH grant.
  • Rushika Perera, PhD, studies the fundamental biology of pancreatic cancers to learn what allows these cancers to be so aggressive. In particular, her lab studies how cancer cells rewire normal cellular digestion pathways to give them an edge over surrounding normal cells. Perera receives the NIH Innovator grant for her proposal to create a mouse model of pancreatic cancer in which the cellular “stomachs,” called lysosomes, of pancreatic cancer cells can be isolated at different stages of cancer development to learn how the nutritional requirements of these cells differ from their neighbors and evolve as the cancers become more malignant. Perera is an assistant professor in the departments of anatomy and pathology in the UCSF School of Medicine and a member of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Arun Wiita, MD, PhD, studies how cancer therapy affects protein production in cells. In particular, Wiita and colleagues are interested in understanding how changes in protein production by cancerous and healthy cells following treatment lead to desired therapeutic outcomes and undesired side-effects. He received the NIH Innovator grant to push the boundaries of mass spectrometry technology to enable his group to track the kinetics of protein folding across thousands of different proteins in cells in near-real time. Wiita is an assistant professor of laboratory medicine in the UCSF School of Medicine and assistant director of the UCSF Clinical Cytogenetics Laboratory, where he aids physicians to interpret prenatal and postnatal genetic testing results.