PHILDELPHIA – University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine investigators are among the 42 recipients of a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) award that encourages investigators to challenge the status quo with innovative ideas. NIH expects to make competing awards totaling $30 million to the recipients of the new NIH Director’s Transformative R01 (T-R01) Awards. Co-investigators Frank S. Lee, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Stephen Master, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, will receive $1.97 million in total costs over the next five years. Robert B. Wilson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, will receive $1.57 million over the next four years.

Accelerating the current pace of discovery is an ongoing effort at the NIH, but the T-R01 Program is new this year. Named for the standard investigator-initiated research project that the NIH supports, the R01, the T-R01s provide an opportunity for a scientist that is like no other NIH program. Since no budget cap is imposed and preliminary results are not required, scientists are free to propose new, bold ideas that may require significant resources to pursue. They are also given the flexibility to work in large teams if the complexity of the research problem demands it.

Drs. Lee and Master will pursue studies on how cells sense oxygen. Work from a number of laboratories, including theirs, has shown that a distinctive chemical modification in cells known as prolyl hydroxylation plays a critical role in regulating a hypoxia inducible protein known as HIF, which senses low oxygen levels in cells. These studies will have implications for understanding diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, and cancer that are characterized by hypoxia.

Dr. Wilson will be working with a novel RNA library, co-invented with postdoctoral fellow Yongping Wang, MD, PhD. The library expresses short-hairpin-loop RNAs (shRNAs) that are completely random at the nucleotide, or DNA building block, level. Using cell-based models, the Wilson lab will screen for shRNAs that promote stem-cell induction, stem-cell differentiation, and protection against viral infection. These studies have implications for both cell-based and infectious-disease therapeutics. 

“The appeal of the awards is that investigators are encouraged to challenge the status quo with innovative ideas, while being given the necessary resources to test them," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. "The fact that we continue to receive such strong proposals for funding through the programs reflects the wealth of creative ideas in science today."

More information on the Transformative R01 Award is at For descriptions of the 2009 recipients’ research plans, see  


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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