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In 2011, Dr. Richard Honkanen, professor of biochemistry at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was awarded a five-year Transformative Research Project Award by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that totaled $ 1,695,625. He was one of 11 researchers across the United States to receive the highly competitive award.
As a result of Dr. Honkanen’s project abstract, he was recently invited by Dr. Francis Collins, director of NIH, to give an oral presentation at the 2013 High-Risk High-Return (HRHR) Research Symposium.
The HRHR Research Symposium was held in Bethesda, Md., where all guests were the recipients of NIH High-Risk High-Reward grants. “Due to the highly competitive nature of getting the awards, having my project chosen for an oral presentation was indeed flattering,” said Dr. Honkanen.
“Most speakers were from high-profile universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Johns Hopkins,” he added, “Needless to say, I was extremely proud to represent USA as a speaker at the symposium.”
The Transformative Research Project Award has been given to some of the nation’s most accomplished scientists, including Dr. Thomas C. Sudhof, one of three recipients of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. These awards are very limited in number and represent the most competitive awards across all disciplines of the National Institutes of Health.
In this research project, Dr. Honkanen is developing methods to safely engineer human immune cells, adapting a strategy used by bacteria to allow macrophages, or natural defense cells, to metabolize cholesterol. “In humans the inability of macrophages to break down cholesterol represents a critical early event in the maladaptive immune response that leads to the onset and progression of atherosclerosis,” said Dr. Honkanen.
The grant has helped to fund Dr. Honkanen’s research project that could potentially change the way physicians treat high cholesterol in the future.
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