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Vallee Foundation Awards $1,000,000 to Young Investigators in Biomedical Science

Boston, MA –  August 2016 - The Bert L and N Kuggie Vallee Foundation is delighted to announce the recipients of the 2016 Young Investigator Awards.  This year, the Foundation has chosen four young scientists from a pool of international early career researchers.  The Vallee Foundation’s goal to fund originality, innovation, and pioneering work recognizes the future promise shown by these men and women who are dedicated to understanding fundamental biological processes. 

Yiyang Gong, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University, started his career in electrical engineering and moved on to protein engineering and neuroscience.  He is interested in understanding brain function using a combination of genetically encoded sensors and optical techniques.  Using optical Brain Machine Interface (oBMI) to probe how visual sensory information is converted into motor output in the zebrafish brain and additional circuits in a variety of animal models, Gong hopes to establish the relationship between large-scale neural dynamics and complex animal behavior.

Melissa Harrison, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is focused on understanding the fundamental molecular mechanisms by which the embryonic genome is rapidly remodeled to create the pluripotent state.  She will use cutting-edge genomics and imaging strategies to define the changes in chromatin accessibility as the embryo transitions through the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT) and elucidate the molecular mechanisms that enable these dramatic changes in genome architecture.

Alexei Korennykh, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, is interested in innate immunity, a rapid protective response found in all mammalian cells.  One of the key activities of the innate immune system is cleavage of intracellular RNAs.  Korennykh aims to determine the precise role of this RNA cleavage in the innate immune system and will employ an interdisciplinary approach that combines cell biology, high-throughput RNA sequencing (RNAseq), X-ray crystallography, biochemistry and biophysics.

Andrew Kruse, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, will be investigating the human sigma-1 receptor, an enigmatic membrane protein linked to neurodegenerative disease. Transmembrane receptor signaling is one of the most fundamental processes in biology and transmembrane receptors are the largest group of therapeutic drug targets.  Kruse will use biophysical and structural methods to characterize sigma-1 activation and its therapeutic potential. He will also employ a protein engineering approach to identify stabilizing synthetic antibody fragments to facilitate crystallization and functional studies in cells.

Vallee Young Investigator Award

The Vallee Young Investigator Award recognizes outstanding young scientists at a critical juncture in their careers.  It provides $250,000 in discretionary funds for basic biomedical research.  Candidates are competitively selected by the originality of their research, innovation, and the quality of their proposal as evidenced by ideas and execution, record of accomplishment, and clear evidence that the awardee can carry out an independent research program. This award is available to investigators who have been nominated by institutions that have been selected by the Vallee Foundation Board of Directors.   The 2017 list of institutions to be solicited for candidate nominations will be posted towards the end of the year.

About the Vallee Foundation

The Vallee Foundation was formed by Bert L and N Kuggie Vallee as their legacy to the advancement of medical science and medical education.  The Foundation stimulates development of interdisciplinary sciences related to human health by promoting interaction between productive scientists worldwide.  In addition to the Young Investigator Awards, programs include: Vallee Visiting Professorships for distinguished researchers, international scientific meetings, a special collaboration with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, and the Kuggie Vallee Distinguished Lectureship to inspire women to continue a career in science.  More information is available online,