2019’s Allen Distinguished Investigators will focus on the mysteries of our cells

Alan Boyle
Biomedical researcher Samantha Morris, shown here in her lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is one of the newly named Allen Distinguished Investigators. ““This award is enabling us to take a big risk in our arena by generating a completely new technology, one which will be useful to the scientific community. That’s really exciting for us,” she said. (Washington University in St. Louis Photo)

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of Seattle’s Allen Institute, is making a total of $7.5 million in awards to its latest class of five biomedical researchers.

The themes for this year’s Allen Distinguished Investigators focus on stem cell therapies and single-cell interactions in their native environments.

“The field of stem cell biology has the potential to change how we treat diseases by helping precision medicine, and there’s so much we still don’t understand about the interplay between cells in living tissues or organs,” Kathy Richmond, director of the Frontiers Group, said today in a news release.

“Our 2019 Allen Distinguished Investigators are pushing their fields in these two areas, through new technology development, probing pivotal interactions in the body that cause health to fail, and generating creative new stem cell models that will improve our understanding of different human diseases,” she said.

The late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen gave the Allen Distinguished Investigator program its start in 2010 as a way to support significant early-stage research that’s less likely to receive grants from traditional sources. This year’s selections bring the roster to a total of 74 researchers, including 13 from the University of Washington.

Each of the investigators will receive $1.5 million in support for their projects over three years. Here’s a rundown on the Class of 2019:

The 2019 Allen Distinguished Investigators include Samantha Morris of Washington University in St. Louis, Joshua Rabinowitz of Princeton University, Clive Svendsen of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Savas Tay of the University of Chicago and James Wells of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. (Allen Institute Photos)

Samantha Morris of Washington University in St. Louis aims to create a “blueprint” of cell identity that will enable researchers to improve the way they generate different kinds of cells from human stem cells.

Joshua Rabinowitz of Princeton University will lead a team developing new technologies to study metabolites, the molecules that result from our bodies’ conversion of food into energy, as well as metabolic activity in single cells from mouse and human tissue.

Clive Svendsen of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center will use stem cells to model how interactions between the gut microbiome and the brain might influence neuron death in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Savas Tay and his colleagues at the University of Chicago are looking into the roots of Crohn’s disease by combining the study of gene expression with single-cell measurements of proteins and protein complexes, using samples of healthy and diseased gut tissue.

James Wells and his colleagues of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will use stem cells to study maladies that affect enteroendocrine cells, which sense nutrients from the food we eat and then control how those nutrients are processed in the intestines.

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