UT Southwestern biochemist honored with NIH Director's Pioneer Award

DALLAS Sept. 29, 2004 Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, is the recipient of a National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award, a new initiative designed to support exceptionally creative investigators.

The award, $500,000 per year for five years, is in its inaugural year and aims at encouraging investigators to take on creative, unexplored avenues of research that carry a relatively high potential for failure, but that also possess a greater chance for truly groundbreaking discoveries. It is one component of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which provides a framework of the NIH's priorities in identifying the most compelling opportunities in medical research.

Dr. McKnight the only winner from Texas is one of nine researchers in America to receive the new award. His research involves the regulation of transcription factors, the proteins that switch genes on and off.

"There is nothing about science that captivates me more than the sheer joy of adventure," said Dr. McKnight, who holds the Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry and the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research. "To be judged by my peers as a pioneer is the highest accolade I could possibly imagine receiving. I'm on cloud nine to hear that I was selected to receive one of the inaugural Pioneer Awards from the National Institutes of Health."

One of the most significant turns Dr. McKnight took in his career was to move from his early work on transcription factors to the study of gene regulation in the brain. One of his current projects has led to the discovery of genes that control the body's internal clock and regulate such processes as sleep, wakefulness and hunger signals. Research in the McKnight lab has recently shown mutations in a class of genes related to these "clock" functions have a broad range of outcomes, from abnormal eating and sleeping pa

Contact: Megha Satyanarayana
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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