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News Office | ILLINOIS

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill .– Nicholas Wu, professor of biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, received the New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health Director, as part of the High Risk, High Yield Research Program of the Common Fund.

Wu, who is also affiliated with Carle Illinois College of Medicine, is among 64 New Innovators, recognized for unusually innovative research by early-career researchers who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and n have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant. His project, “High-throughput identification of antibody characteristics for sequence-based epitope prediction”, aims to characterize how human antibodies interact with their targets, focusing first on influenza.

“Human antibodies are very diverse and can recognize a wide variety of targets to confer protection against different pathogens. The specificity of an antibody is determined by its structure, which in turn is determined by its primary amino acid sequence, but we do not yet understand enough to be able to predict the activity of an antibody based on its sequence, ”Wu said.

With the three-year award, Wu plans to develop a platform that will allow him to study hundreds of thousands of antibody structures and their binding capacity in a single experiment. Armed with this information, he said he hopes to characterize the nature of antibody interactions with influenza and catalog molecular features that can help predict how an antibody will bind based on its sequence. Wu also intends to use the platform to study other types of antibodies in the future.

“In the arms race to combat ever-evolving viruses, Professor Wu’s work will develop a unique predictive platform using influenza as a model of analysis, discovery and implementation that changes boundaries,” said said Illinois Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Susan Martinis. “His vision embodies the spirit of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and exemplifies the best of the University of Illinois – creative and impactful research that changes lives.

The high-risk, high-yield research program catalyzes scientific discovery by supporting highly innovative research proposals that may struggle in the traditional peer review process despite their transformative potential, according to an NIH statement. Applicants to the program are encouraged to think expansively and pursue innovative ideas in any area of ​​research relevant to the NIH’s mission to advance knowledge and improve health.


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