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Frank Schroeder Selected for HHMI Faculty Scholars Program

Frank Schroeder

Frank Schroeder, BTI associate professor and Cornell University adjunct professor in chemistry and chemical biology. (Robert Barker / Cornell Marketing Group)

Frank Schroeder, associate professor at the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and Cornell University professor in chemistry and chemical biology, has been selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as one of 84 members of its new Faculty Scholars Program.

Schroeder received the award for his innovative research into small molecules in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which promises to improve our understanding of the chemical signaling processes that govern aging and may have a transformative effect on drug development. The award provides research support to promising early-career scientists who have the potential to make significant contributions to their field.

“The HHMI Faculty Scholars Award will provide generous support for high-risk, innovative research in the area of metabolomics and small-molecule signaling. This is a great opportunity for my lab and BTI,” said Schroeder.

Three of the nation’s largest philanthropies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Simons Foundation have partnered to develop the Faculty Scholars Program. They aim to nurture scientific talent and to enable inventive scientists to focus on their research rather than on securing grants in an increasingly competitive funding environment. This is the first year that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has made these awards.

In his research, Schroeder uses C. elegans, an important model system for human disease, to investigate how novel cell metabolism products function as signals between individuals and within cells. These small molecules exhibit fascinating chemical diversity and regulate lifespan, reproduction, behavior and many other traits, often through signaling pathways that are shared throughout the animal kingdom. Thus, the analytical tools developed by the Schroeder lab to identify structures and functions of biogenic small molecules will be transferable to other animal models.

The study of small molecules also offers unique opportunities for developing novel treatments for human disease. Parasitic nematodes are responsible for several neglected tropical diseases, and nematode compounds called ascarosides, some of which act as pheromones, may provide a means to disrupt the nematode life cycle. Additionally, plant immune systems can detect and respond to miniscule concentrations of these ascarosides, and Schroeder’s work has shown that ascarosides  can be used to prevent disease in diverse crop plants.

The three philanthropies created this program to ensure that researchers have the freedom to pursue their most creative solutions to global health problems. In the last two decades, the success rate for scientists applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health has declined dramatically, while the average age at which an investigator receives his or her first large, sustaining grant has risen sharply. This pressure has led to many “safe” grant proposals, a trend that is leaving potentially inventive new ideas behind.

“This program will provide these scientists with much needed flexible resources so they can follow their best research ideas,” said HHMI Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer David Clapham.

Learn more about the transformative work of the Schroeder laboratory in this video: .

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