Fundación’s researcher is awarded a prestigious Howard Hughes Collaborative Grant


Last week, Fundación’s researcher, Dr. Sebastian Bernales and his group, were awarded the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Collaborative Innovation Grant, which aims to help bring researchers together to tackle new ideas.

A $10 million pilot program ($10 million per year, totaling $40 million over four years) from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will now enable eight teams of scientists to devote substantial time and energy to pursuing collaborative, potentially transformative research. The Collaborative Innovation Awards represent a shift for HHMI because they represent the first time the Institute will provide direct funding for specific research projects. They are intended to encourage both HHMI investigators and scientists outside HHMI (like Dr. Bernales) to undertake projects that are new and so large in scope that they require a team of collaborators with a range of expertise.

The eight projects were selected from among 62 proposals submitted by HHMI investigators and will bring together a total of 33 researchers from 16 institutions in the United States and Chile. The Institute will evaluate the success of the eight projects selected in this pilot phase, and expects to expand the program in coming years. Each collaborator will receive funds from HHMI to cover their research budget, including the purchase of new equipment if needed.

The Unfolded Protein Response: A Good Target for Drug Design?

Cells have an elaborate system in place to ensure their protein-folding resources are always prepared to meet demand. That system is so influential that it can make life-or-death decisions for cells, and its impact on cell survival has been implicated in a variety of human diseases. Teasing out the precise effects of each component of this regulatory system is a daunting task, but could help researchers find new ways to intervene in disease. So, with a new Collaborative Innovation Award from HHMI, a team of scientists led by HHMI investigator Peter Walter is taking on the challenge.

Walter, will team with Frank McCormick, HHMI investigator Kevan Shokat, Marc Shuman, and James Wells, all at the University of California, San Francisco, and Sebastián Bernales, who is at the Fundación Ciencia para la Vida in Santiago, Chile, to develop those tools. The group will work together to amass a collection of drug-like molecules that they and other researchers can use to enhance or dampen each branch of the unfolded protein response in predictable ways. Then they plan to use those tools to test whether the unfolded protein response can be exploited to kill cancer cells.

Monthly videoconferences will ensure the continued exchange of ideas between the collaborators in San Francisco and Chile, and Walter is optimistic that a close and energetic collaboration over the next four years will allow the team to accomplish its goals.dec550742e8db9135455166ff29c0f78