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Pitt Faculty Receive Prestigious National Institutes of Health Awards for Early Career Investigators

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PITTSBURGH, Oct. 4, 2016 – Two University of Pittsburgh faculty members have been chosen to receive awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at early career investigators who demonstrate the potential for innovative research.

William R. Stauffer, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Neurobiology and a member of Pitt’s Brain Institute, was awarded an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Established in 2007 under the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the award is given to support “exceptionally creative new investigators who propose highly innovative projects,” according to the NIH.

Dr. Stauffer will study how the brain processes rewards and how we make choices. This aspect of brain function is critical to our interpretation of the world around us; consequently, deficits are reflected in disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. He will perform his studies in non-human primate research models using novel behavioral techniques, electrophysiology and optogenetics, a technique that uses light to control genetically modified cells.

Dr. Stauffer, who recently returned to Pittsburgh after a stint as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, U.K., obtained his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Pitt.

“The program continues to support high-caliber investigators whose ideas stretch the boundaries of our scientific knowledge,” said NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., about the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. “We welcome the newest cohort of outstanding scientists to the program and look forward to their valuable contributions.”

Matthew D. Neal, M.D., an assistant professor of surgery and of critical care medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine, was selected for a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). The award, which is part of a pilot program, is designed to give promising and highly talented independent early career investigators flexibility and stability, “thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs,” according to NIGMS.

Dr. Neal completed his medical degree, residency and fellowship at Pitt’s School of Medicine. Using the award funding, he will investigate mechanisms of blood clotting, specifically the function of platelets, in trauma. The long-term goal of his research is to develop therapies that can be more effective in preventing excessive bleeding in traumatic injuries, as well as preventing the subsequent development of deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, a major problem in trauma patients.

“These well-deserved awards recognize the outstanding potential of our early career investigators and highlight the academic environment at the University of Pittsburgh that fosters excellence in basic and clinical biomedical research,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine.