Weinberg professor given Allen Foundation investigator award

Rebecca Savransky, Campus Editor

A Weinberg professor was awarded the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s Allen Distinguished Investigator award for his research in mapping and defining cell types in the human body over time.

Molecular biosciences Prof. Neil Kelleher said he has been working on the research for the past several years and is looking forward to continuing his project. Each recipient of the grant receives between $1 million and $1.2 million over a three-year time period.

“It’s a grant about defining human wellness and disease in particular types of cells in human blood,” Kelleher said. “We want to map out the natural pathway that how these cells mature from being in your bone marrow to being in your blood and preventing you from getting infections.”

Kelleher said the initiative is a three-year project, noting it is extremely large in scale. He said the Allen Foundation values people who “take on bold, risky projects,” when awarding its grants and his project satisfied the requirements. The approach of studying how proteins change brings with it many challenges, but has the potential to have a great impact in the field if successful, he said.

Kelleher added the initiative aims to find an “agreed-upon path to inventory all the cells and all the protein molecules in them in the entire human body.” He said the project is similar in size and scope to the genome project, noting individuals have tried to complete similar initiatives in the past with “varying degrees of success.”

With the grant, Kelleher and his team will use single-cell tracking methods in order to effectively document the development of white blood cells.

Kelleher said he was excited about winning the grant and is looking forward to making using of the funds.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Kelleher said. “I worked, myself and my team, here in the proteomic center, worked very hard on this particular application because Paul Allen and his team in Seattle, they have a particular eye for science that could be big someday, and this is why I was so excited to be endorsed through this program with the Allen Foundation.”

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