By Mark Dwortzan
Assistant Professor Xue Han (BME) has received a 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports exceptionally creative, early-career researchers pursuing highly innovative projects with the potential to transform their field of endeavor and bring about improved health outcomes. Chosen from hundreds of applicants from across the U.S., Han and 50 other award recipients were announced at the eighth annual NIH Director’s Pioneer Award Symposium on September 13.
The award, which provides up to $1.5 million in funding for five years, will support Han’s efforts to develop a novel method to study the functions of biomolecules in the brain. The method, which uses nanoscale robots to safely probe a variety of molecules, peptides and proteins in intact brains with pulses of visible light, could open up new frontiers in basic molecular and systems neuroscience, drug development and side effect assessment.
“I am thrilled to receive this award,” said Han. “It will provide tremendous support for my research.”
Han develops and applies high-precision genetic, molecular, optical and electrical tools and other nanotechnologies to study neural circuits in the brain. By using light to momentarily activate or silence individual brain cells, she and her research team seek to identify connections between neural circuit dynamics and behavioral phenomena such as movement, attention, memory and decision-making. Establishing such connections could improve our understanding of cognitive functioning and lead to new treatments to Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorders and other neurological diseases.