NIH Grants Awards to “Follow That Cell”

The National Institutes of Health is challenging science innovators to compete for up to $500,000 in prizes for developing new ways to track the activities of single cells in complex tissues.

FollowThatCellThe NIH’s “Single Cell Analysis Challenge”, funded by the NIH’s Single Cell Analysis Program (SCAP), will provide awards to investigate methods to analyze dynamic states of individual cells and predict alterations in their behavior and function over time. The crowd sourcing company InnoCentive, Inc. is hosting and marketing the challenge under contract with NIH.

According to NIH News Release, the awards will be given to researchers developing tools that would, for example, monitor a cell in the process of becoming cancerous, detect changes due to a disease-causing virus, or track how a cell responds to treatment.

Phase 1 of the challenge, which began August 21, seeks theoretical proposals, due by Dec. 15, 2014. The winners of up to 6 prizes of $100,000 will be announced March 16, 2015.

Phase 1 winners and runners-up will be eligible to participate in Phase 2, a “Reduction to Practice” to provide proof of concept data related to their Phase 1 entries. These submissions will be due March 30, 2017. One or two winning solutions will receive prizes totaling $400,000, to be announced July 31, 2017.

James Anderson, director of NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI), said in the news release that the prizes will also “help to stimulate new businesses and economic growth in our biomedical communities.”

The challenge aims to generate creative ideas and methods for following and predicting a single cell’s behavior and function over time in a complex multicellular environment—preferably using multiple integrated measures to detect its changing state.

Anderson explains that all cells in a given tissue are not identical, and that changes in individual cells can affect the health and function of the entire cell population. He said “Today’s tools provide mostly snapshots of single cells, not the movie of changes over time that we need to understand cell states and transitions.”

Although several grant-supported studies exploring these issues are underway, the SCAP seeks to stimulate efforts beyond academia, among a more diverse community than researchers who typically apply for NIH grants. These include innovators and problem solvers from US industry research and development, and even from outside the fields of biomedicine.

Submissions will be screened by panels of outside and NIH staff experts prior to review by a 3-judge panel of DPCPSI and other NIH directors.

Details of the criteria by which entries will be evaluated are published in the Federal Register. While only citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible to compete individually as solvers, non-citizens may participate as a member of a team

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