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$250,000 Johns Hopkins President’s Frontier Award Goes to Sharon Gerecht

Inaugural Prize Will Support Faculty Member’s Work in Tissue Repair and Regeneration

January 28, 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Phil Sneiderman
Office: 443-997-9907
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A Johns Hopkins engineering professor who is coaxing stem cells into forming blood vessels that can nurture healthy tissue or starve cancer cells is the first recipient of a new university award that provides $250,000 in research funding.

The inaugural President’s Frontier Award was announced Jan. 28 during a surprise presentation at recipient Sharon Gerecht’s lab on the university’s Homewood Campus in Baltimore. Gerecht is an associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

“I am very happy and I am humbled,” Gerecht said at the event. “It is great to have this recognition. It is also a lot of responsibility. We have lots of work to do.”

The presentation was made by Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Robert C. Lieberman.

“Sharon embodies the best traditions of Johns Hopkins research: vision, collaboration and tireless pursuit of discovery,” Daniels said. “This award reflects our commitment to her work and the advances she is poised to make in the field of stem cell research.”

Since joining the faculty of the university’s Whiting School of Engineering in 2007, Gerecht has made enormous strides in her research, such as demonstrating that stem cells could be prodded to form blood vessels and grow for the first time in a synthetic material. She also developed a new class of oxygen-controlling hydrogels that have potential applications ranging from energy to biomedical uses. Her work has appeared in more than 90 publications, and she holds 19 patents.

Gerecht was awarded her PhD within the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s Biotechnology Interdisciplinary Unit in 2004. She then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at MIT before joining the Whiting School faculty. At Johns Hopkins, she has collaborated with researchers across established engineering and medical disciplines. She is a member of the university’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology and a lead investigator with the National Cancer Institute-funded Physical Sciences-Oncology Center.

Sharon Gerecht – Photo by Will Kirk/Homewood Photography

Recently, Gerecht was named the first Kent Gordon Croft Investment Management Faculty Scholar, a three-year award that provides funds for research, teaching and entrepreneurial activities.

“There is no question that Sharon is a leader in her field with exciting new ideas,” said Provost Lieberman. “She is also a highly valued member of our faculty community who teaches, advises, and mentors students at all levels and is dedicated to empowering women and minorities in science and engineering. We are proud that she has made Johns Hopkins her academic home.”

Her newest honor, the President’s Frontier Award, will provide $250,000 to support Gerecht’s research. University leaders said the goal of the award is to help Gerecht realize her great promise as an innovator in her field.

“We are trying to rebuild blood vessels because they are so important in so many diseases. If you control the process, you can help or inhibit disease processes in the body,” Gerecht said. “There is not enough money to think out of the box and propose things that are risky. It’s becoming very difficult to get this money… Hopefully, this will fund out of the box thinking or crazy ideas that might lead to breakthrough inventions and discoveries.”

The Frontier Award was made possible through a generous donation from two Johns Hopkins alumni: university trustee Louis J. Forster and Kathleen M. Pike. The award will recognize one person each year for five years with funding for their research expenses. When it was announced, the program was characterized as an investment in a researcher’s future potential, rather than a lifetime achievement award.

After the Frontier Award nomination process was opened last fall to full-time faculty from all Johns Hopkins schools and campuses, dozens of nominations were submitted and reviewed in a two-tiered process before the president and the provost made the final selection.

University leaders said that in addition to Frontier Award winner Gerecht, three outstanding finalists are being recognized with $50,000 presidential monetary gifts to fund their research and advance their academic pursuits.

These three finalists are Scott Bailey, associate professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Samer Hattar, associate professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology; and Sean Sun, associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The Frontier Award is part of an expanded effort by the university to provide more funding to help faculty members move forward with innovative research projects. Earlier this week, university leaders unveiled two such programs: the Discovery Awards, which aim to spark new research interactions among faculty across the university; and the Catalyst Awards, which are intended to help promising early-career faculty to establish their research programs. More information about these awards and funding programs can be found on the provost’s website: http://web.jhu.edu/administration/provost/awards/index.html

A short video from the presentation event can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/RctvF44c6Pk

A color photo of Sharon Gerecht is available; contact Phil Sneiderman.

Related Links:
Gerecht Lab Page: http://gerechtlab.johnshopkins.edu/
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: http://engineering.jhu.edu/chembe/
Whiting School of Engineering: http://engineering.jhu.edu/
Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology: http://inbt.jhu.edu/


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