News Release

PHILADELPHIA—Eight researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have received research grants designed to invest in high-risk, high-reward projects.

A group of five Penn scientists received the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award for a project focusing on cancer research, while three investigators received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for independent projects developed by early-career investigators.

Established in 2009, the Transformative Research Award promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary science and is open to individuals and teams of investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms.

Transformative Research Award recipients include:

With the award, the Penn Therapeutics Mechanisms research team plans to establish a new development and discovery platform, known as the Probe Enabled Activity Reporting (PEAR) system, designed to explore the proteome—a set of proteins that are expressed by cells, tissues, and organisms—of tumor cells. The resulting discoveries could advance precision cancer medicine by enabling therapeutic development and validating novel concepts and methodologies. As a result, PEAR holds the potential to provide fundamental insights into tumor biology and transform precision oncology by providing a platform to improve existing paradigms for drug discovery.

Since 2007, the New Innovator Award has supported unusually innovative research from early-career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant.

Award recipients include:

  • Chengcheng Jin, PhD, an assistant professor of Cancer Biology: Developing a better understanding of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, in the tumor microenvironment. The project could reveal novel targets for precision cancer immunotherapies while preserving immune surveillance in healthy tissue.
  • Bushra Raj, PhD, an assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology: Testing a novel technology that uses CRISPR/Cas gene-editing tools to genomically record inputs from two signaling pathways in the developing zebrafish brain.
  • Amelia Escolano, PhD, Wistar Institute assistant professor of Microbiology: Pursuing novel strategies and technologies to advance the design of universal vaccines against highly mutating viruses, bacteria and cancer.

The awards were made through the NIH Common Fund, which supports bold projects that catalyze discovery in biomedical and behavioral research. Participants work across NIH institutes and centers to collaborate on innovative research that is expected to address high-priority challenges for the NIH and the broader scientific community.

This year 103 awards nationally total approximately $285 million in support from the institutes, centers, and offices across NIH over five years beginning in 2022.


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 $9.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 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 $546 million awarded in the 2021 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 Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 47,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2021, Penn Medicine provided more than $619 million to benefit our community.

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