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NIH selects Emory pathologist for Early Independence Award

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has honored Sean Stowell, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, with the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award.

Established in 2011, the Early Independence Awards, which include five-year research grants of $1.25 million, are given to a small number of exceptional early-career scientists who demonstrate "the intellect, scientific creativity, drive and maturity to flourish independently without the need for traditional postdoctoral training," according to NIH director Francis Collins.

Stowell’s research is focused on ABO blood group antigens, the carbohydrates on the surfaces of red blood cells that dictate blood transfusion compatibility. How the immune system forms antibodies against blood group antigens – and interacts with microbes that display similar antigens -- is still poorly understood.

Stowell’s work at Emory with Richard Cummings, PhD, chairman of biochemistry, brought to light how a family of innate immune proteins called galectins can target and kill microbes that mimic blood group antigens. Work with Jeanne Hendrickson, MD, now at Yale, resulted in the development of a rodent model designed to understand how this unique form of immunity may impact the development of these antibodies in vivo.

"Our studies will examine how galectin-mediated immunity impacts the microbiome and contributes to the regulation of anti-blood group antibodies," Stowell says. "Understanding these factors could help answer century-old questions about how anti-blood group antibodies develop, and potentially improve the safety of blood transfusions and organ transplantation."

The NIH Director's Early Independence Awards initiative is funded through the NIH Common Fund, which supports cross cutting programs that are expected to have exceptionally high impact. All Common Fund initiatives encourage investigators to develop bold, innovative and often risky approaches to problems or to seize new opportunities that offer the potential for rapid progress.

"Dr. Stowell’s groundbreaking studies focus on one of the key factors that determine the success of blood transfusions, which are given to tens of thousands of Americans each year," says Tristram G. Parslow, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Emory School of Medicine. "We are especially proud that his medical and research training at Emory helped make him a top candidate for this prestigious NIH award."

View more information about the NIH Director’s Awards.

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