J. Keith Joung, MD, PhD, of MGH Pathology, the MGH Center for Cancer Research and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology, is one of 17 investigators nationwide to receive a 2010 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director's Pioneer Award. The awards are designed to support scientists pursuing projects that address major challenges in biomedical or behavioral research, particularly those taking innovative approaches. Recipients receive $2.5 million in grant support over five years.
Joung's project seeks to develop more efficient ways to reprogram adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) -- which have many of the characteristics of embryonic stem cells -- along with better methods to induce iPSCs to develop into desired cell types and to target specific disease-associated genes for modification. He and his team will use a methodology developed in his laboratory to engineer synthetic proteins called zinc fingers that recognize and bind to specific genes, changing their expression or the DNA sequence.
"The Pioneer Award will enable my lab to pursue new applications of engineered zinc-finger technology," Joung says. "We aim to develop substantially improved methods for generating, genetically modifying and differentiating induced pluripotent stem cells. If we are successful, these broadly useful tools will further accelerate the use of iPSCs for biological research and molecular therapies of genetic disorders."