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Eight Researchers Funded for 'High-Risk, High-Reward' Projects

The Harvard Science Center.
The Harvard Science Center. By Brandon W. Hills
By Ashley M. Cooper and Luke W. Vrotsos, Contributing Writers

Eight Harvard researchers were awarded millions in federal funding from the National Institutes of Health’s “High-Risk, High-Reward” research program, which supports scientists who conduct research with “high-impact potential” in the biomedical field.

The researchers will receive nearly $8.5 million to conduct a broad array of health science research, in fields ranging from psychology to health policy analysis. These eight professors and postdoctoral fellows were among 86 researchers from other schools funded for their “highly innovative “ research plans, according to an NIH press release.

Harvard affiliates won grants from three of the four categories of the program, which dispensed a total of approximately $263 million to researchers at institutions across the country.

Sherri Rose, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, received a New Innovator Award for a proposal to analyze ten years of Mass. Medicaid data to better understand socioeconomic and geographic disparities in healthcare.

NIH’s New Innovator Award is specifically reserved for researchers early on in their careers.

Rose said that traditionally, grants fund a single, narrow research proposal, whereas this round of NIH grants “give a lot more flexibility,” allowing a scientist to conduct more multifaceted research. She also compared these grants to venture-capital funding, because they focus on an individual scientist’s potential.

Four Harvard affiliates also won the Pioneer Award, a fund intended for professors who attempt to create new solutions to longstanding challenges in their fields. Three will receive the Early Independence Award, a grant that looks to allow post-doctoral fellows the freedom to pursue research early on in their training.

The sum given to Harvard researchers comes as President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to decrease the NIH’s annual budget. Administrators and faculty from across the University have emphasized the importance of NIH funding for research and innovation.

Samuel A. Mehr, a post-doctoral researcher in the Psychology department, received an Early Independence Award for a project called the “Music Lab,” which looks to study the cognitive science of music.

Utilizing data collected during his time as a graduate student, Mehr said he plans to rely on research about indigenous cultures’ connection to music—including data from nearly 100 societies from around the globe—to differentiate his study from prior research.

“What’s most exciting about this I think, is that there aren’t a lot of places in the world where there are well-funded labs that are purely looking at music and the science behind music,” Mehr said.

Mehr added he looks forward to conducting research with the NIH funding.

“It was a big surprise and it’s a great honor,” he said, “I’m really thankful to the NIH for doing this.”

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