U.Va. Researcher Is Named a 2009 Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences

June 16, 2009 — Kevin Janes, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, is one of 17 researchers to be selected as a 2009 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

As a Pew Scholar, Janes will receive a $240,000 award over four years to support his research and gains inclusion into a select community of scientists that encourages collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

"Pew's Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences recognizes and supports promising young scientists in advancing human health," said Shelley A. Hearne, managing director of the Pew Health Group. "Unlike many traditional research grants with strict guidelines on how funds must be used, our program allows participants to try out new investigative directions as their research unfolds. Flexibility, we feel, is an important key to encouraging the scientific creativity that often leads to spectacular results."

Thomas C. Skalak, U.Va.'s vice president for research, said Janes joins a distinguished group of recent U.Va. Pew Scholars, including Todd Stukenberg (2001) and Dean Kedes (2000).

"We are proud of this early recognition of Kevin as one of the rising stars here at U.Va.," he said. "The Pew Scholars program is among the most competitive in the country. Kevin winning this prestigious award in his first year at U.Va. indicates how quickly his research is moving."

Janes' research focuses on the process of how cells take multiple signal inputs and interpret them to cause cell-fate decisions such as division, differentiation or death. Changes in cell fates, which can underlie complex diseases such as cancer, are usually the outcome of networks of signaling pathways that are interconnected.

Instead of looking at a single pathway that directs cell fate changes, as is most commonly done, Janes uses a multipronged approach, combining quantitative biochemical techniques and statistical modeling. In addition, he performs experiments in cells that change more than one factor, or pathway, at a given time. By tracking changes in multiple signaling pathways during the transition of a cell into a new state, his studies contribute to the identification of optimal therapies for complex diseases like cancer that may require combinations of drug therapeutic approaches.

Skalak said Janes' research poses and develops innovative strategies for answering fundamental questions about how molecular networks inside cells process information. "It also will contribute directly to translational research in cancer biology and mammary-gland morphogenesis," he said.

The Pew honor provides a great opportunity, said Janes, who received a doctorate in bioengineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005 and completed his postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School before joining the U.Va. faculty.

"Their organization has a long-standing tradition of supporting young scientists, and I am thrilled to become part of the Pew community," he said. "This award will be instrumental in building and expanding my research program at U.Va."

Now in its 25th year, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences has invested more than $125 million to fund more than 460 scholars. Many alumni have received prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, MacArthur Fellowships and the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.

For biographies and information regarding the scholars' research, visit www.pewscholars.org.