Announcement
October 10, 2014

Penn Medicine Researcher Receives New Innovator Award from National Institutes of Health

PHILADELPHIA — Roberto Bonasio, PhD, an assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and a core member of the Penn Epigenetics Program is one of the recipients of a 2014 New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, totaling $1.5 million over five years for each of the 50 recipients this year, supports highly innovative research and creative, new investigators who exhibit strong potential to make great advances on a critical biomedical or behavioral research problem. The initiative, established in 2007, supports investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency, who have not yet received a research project grant (R01), or equivalent NIH grant, to conduct unusually innovative research.

Bonasio studies the molecular mechanisms of epigenetic memory, which are key to a number of biological processes, including embryonic development, cancer, stem cell pluripotency, and brain function. In particular, he will be looking at gene expression controlled by epigenetic pathways that alter the chemical structure of chromosomes and allow for multiple cell identities to arise from a single genome. These pathways are also critical in the brain and their improper functioning can cause mental retardation, cognitive decline, and psychiatric disorders.

Bonasio has chosen ants as a model system. With colleagues Shelley Berger, PhD, who directs the Penn Epigenetics program; postdoctoral mentor Danny Reinberg, PhD, New York University; and Jürgen Liebig, PhD, Arizona State University, Bonasio has established the ant Harpegnathos saltator as a laboratory model to study epigenetics, the process by which a single genome gives rise to a variety of physiological outcomes.

This phenomenon is particularly evident in ants, as they live in caste-based societies in which most of the individuals are sterile females, limited to highly specialized roles such as workers and soldiers. Only one queen and the relatively small contingent of male ants are fertile and able to reproduce. Yet despite such extreme differences in behavior and physical form, all females within the colony appear to be genetically identical.

Dan Huh, PhD, from the School of Engineering and Applied Science was another recipient of this NIH award. See the University of Pennsylvania release for more.

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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