Monell Scientist Receives Center’s First NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research Grant

(PHILADELPHIA) Amber L. Alhadeff, PhD, an Assistant Member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, is among the 106 grant recipients of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) High-Risk, High-Reward Research program for 2021.

Amber Alhadeff, PhD

Specifically, Alhadeff received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant. “I am thrilled to receive this award,” said Alhadeff. “It will provide the intellectual space to pursue new ideas that can redefine the neural mechanisms that underlie overeating!”

Alhadeff received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, after which she joined the laboratory of J. Nicholas Betley at Penn for her postdoctoral training. In 2020, she joined Monell, where she currently studies gut-brain signaling pathways underlying motivated behavior, works on promoting mentorship, and helps advocate for underrepresented groups in science.

Dr. Alhadeff is also a recipient of a NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award, the L’Oreal USA For Women in Science Award, the Klingenstein-Simons Foundation Award in Neuroscience, and the American Heart Association Career Development Award.

The NIH New Innovator Award is granted to Dr. Alhadeff for her project: “Harnessing Sensory Food Circuits to Influence Feeding Behavior.” The project addresses the modern food environment – the constant exposure to compelling cues such as the smell and taste of highly palatable foods – that interact with our physiology to promote feeding and weight gain. This project also utilizes a unique approach by evaluating the power of taste, smell, and nutrient neural circuits in modifying eating behavior and uncovering how sensory and nutritive information is integrated in the brains of awake, behaving mice to predict future weight gain.

Grants awarded through the High-Risk, High-Reward Program support highly innovative and broadly impactful biomedical or behavioral research, like Dr. Alhadeff’s. Overall, the 2021 grants included 10 Pioneer awards, 64 New Innovator awards, 19 Transformative Research awards, and 13 Early Independence awards.

The awards total approximately $329 million over five years; and their aim is to catalyze scientific discovery by supporting proposals that, due to their inherent risk, may struggle in the traditional peer-review process despite their transformative potential.

“The science put forward by this cohort is exceptionally novel and creative and is sure to push at the boundaries of what is known,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD about the awardees. “These visionary investigators come from a wide breadth of career stages and show that groundbreaking science can happen at any career level given the right opportunity.”

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The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1968, Monell‘s mission is to improve health and well-being by advancing the scientific understanding of taste, smell, and related senses, where our discoveries lead to improving nutritional health, diagnosing, and treating disease, addressing smell and taste loss, and digitizing chemosensory data.