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Hopkins Neuroscientist Earns NIH “Pathway” Grant

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Media Relations and Public Affairs
Media Contact: Jeff Ventura
Dec. 5, 2006

Hopkins Neuroscientist Earns NIH "Pathway" Grant
--Highly competitive award process singles out most promising young investigators

Kellie L.K. Tamashiro, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins who studies obesity, is the recipient of one of 58 National Institutes of Health grants in support of young investigators with promising research. She was chosen from among almost 900 applicants in one round of a grant cycle that will see a total of 150 and 200 awardees for 2006.

The new $927,000 "Pathway to Independence" grant, introduced early in 2006, is part of an earmark program for talented postdoctoral scientists. The program supports both independent research and mentoring by more senior scientists.

"New investigators provide energy, enthusiasm and ideas that propel the scientific enterprise toward greater discovery and push forward the frontiers of medical research," says Elias Zerhouni, M.D., director of the NIH.

"Academic medical centers consider this NIH program absolutely vital to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest young scientists," says Chi Dang, M.D., vice dean for research at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "America's competitive edge depends on the training and advancement of these new researchers, who will make the discoveries that will advance human health in the future."

The first, mentoring phase of the grant (two years of support at $90,000 per year) allows awardees to complete supervised work, publish results and search for an independent research position. The second, independent phase ($249,000 per year for three years) supports awardees as they secure an assistant professorship or equivalent position, establish their own research programs and apply for a bread-and-butter NIH investigator-initiated (R01) grant. The R01 is the major means by which NIH supports individual research projects.

"This is a great opportunity, one that will let me continue my current research and stay competitive as I work to establish my own lab some day," says Tamashiro, who is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Timothy H. Moran, Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Tamashiro’s research goal is to describe the short- and long-term effects of fetal stress and nutrition on behavior and brain development. "Using the rat as a model, we want to evaluate the effects of the mother’s stress and a high-fat diet during gestation and nursing on such things as brain cell activity and energy balance in the babies," says Tamashiro.

Human population studies have suggested that a stressful or unhealthy environment in the womb has long-term consequences for offspring, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, mental illness and obesity, says Tamashiro.

"We hope that the Pathway to Independence is a bridge that will support new investigators at precisely the point between mentoring and independence that we have seen as a most vulnerable time in the career path," added Zerhouni in making the grant announcements on Thursday. "We must invest in the future of our new scientists today if we expect to meet the nation's health challenges of tomorrow. In today’s challenging budget environment, it is critical that NIH preserve the ability of young scientists with fresh ideas to enter the competitive world of NIH funding. Nothing is more important."

For more information about the NIH Pathway to Independence program, visit