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New Prize for High Risk, High Reward Research Awarded to Research on How Viruses Cause Disease

First-ever Stony Brook University Discovery Prize Fellow selected by illustrious panel.

by Stony Brook University
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Laurie Krug holds the Discovery Prize award with President Stanley (l) and Jim Simons.Stony Brook UniversityNew York, NY – December 11, 2014 – Laurie T. Krug, Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Stony Brook University, is the first early career scientist to be named the Stony Brook University Discovery Prize Fellow, a new philanthropically-sponsored award established to fund high-risk, high-reward basic research projects. Krug was named today following a “Shark Tank”-meets-“TED Talk”-styled competition at the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City.  Krug was selected from one of four finalists for her project that researches herpes viruses that are associated with cancer and the idea of delivering molecular scissors to the site of virus infection using nanoparticles. 

“Without reliable, significant support, America’s leadership in scientific discovery is in jeopardy, and I am proud that Stony Brook University is pioneering the movement to mobilize private philanthropy in support of basic science,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD. “Laurie Krug and other talented Stony Brook researchers like her fuel the University’s commitment to scientific research. That commitment is reinforced by the remarkable work and determination of the Stony Brook Foundation.”

The Stony Brook University Discovery Prize was established when the Stony Brook Foundation created the Discovery Fund in response to a nationwide call to augment public funding of university research with philanthropic support. The Prize is part of a broader commitment by President Stanley and the Foundation to raise $25 million to invest via future awards to faculty over the next 10 years.

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“It’s exciting and an honor to be the first Discovery Prize recipient,” said Krug.  Krug and her collaborator Balaji Sitharaman were awarded $200,000 to support their research and in an unexpected announcement made after the judges' deliberation, the three finalists learned that they each will receive a $50,000 Discovery Fund award for their projects.

Historic for its dynamic approach to encourage early career faculty to compete for the prize in a live, real-time setting – a format usually reserved for reality TV competitions like “The Voice,” “Shark Tank” and “American Idol” – the Discovery Prize competition also included a component that requires finalists to explain their project in a way that is easy to understand and conveys its significance and approach to solving a problem. 

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University was instrumental in the training of all four finalists, who were selected from a total of 22 proposal submissions that were reviewed by a panel of six SUNY Distinguished Professors. 

“Today was a great day for Stony Brook, and a great day for science,” said Simons.  “Each of the four competitors had excellent proposals.  Of course, we had to pick one, and it was a great one.”Each of the four finalists were lauded for their ambitious, innovative and forward-thinking projects which they presented to an illustrious panel of judges that included Nobel Laureate Peter Agre, MD – Winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and professor at Johns Hopkins University; Robert Shelton, PhD – President of Research Corporation for Science Advancement and former president of the University of Arizona; James H. Simons, PhD – Chairman of theSimons Foundation, founder of Renaissance Technologies and former Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook University; and, Esther Takeuchi, PhD – holder of 150 patents and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Stony Brook University. Legendary actor Alan Alda, founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, provided opening remarks at the event. Paul Hoffman, CEO of the Liberty Science Center, served as Master of Ceremonies.

Each of the four finalists were lauded for their ambitious, innovative and forward-thinking projects which they presented to an illustrious panel of judges that included Nobel Laureate  Peter Agre, MD  – Winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and professor at Johns Hopkins University;  Robert Shelton, PhD   – President of Research Corporation for Science Advancement and former president of the University of Arizona;  James H. Simons, PhD  – Chairman of theSimons Foundation, founder of Renaissance Technologies and former Chairman of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook University; and,  Esther Takeuchi, PhD –   holder of 150 patents and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Stony Brook University. Legendary actor  Alan Alda, founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, provided opening remarks at the event.  Paul Hoffman, CEO of the Liberty Science Center, served as Master of Ceremonies

“Today’s program represented both a unique and an essential response to the diminishing federal support for basic research,” said Hoffman. “As a longtime advocate for science, it is heartening that such creative, new avenues to fund this research are being initiated. Having the four young scientists vie for a significant amount of private funding to support their research was both fun and interesting.  I’m honored to have been asked by Stony Brook University to serve as master of ceremonies for such a prestigious competition.”

“From my perspective as a judge, I just want to compliment Stony Brook and the extraordinary young faculty they have presenting here,” said Shelton. “It is an affirmation of what made this country great -- and that is investing in youth.”

“It was such a delight to participate in the Stony Brook Discovery Fund Prize event and really an honor to be part of the very elite judges’ panel that had the extraordinarily difficult decision of selecting the first ever inaugural winner of the Discovery Prize,” said Takeuchi. “I’m very thrilled with the outcome and wish all of the finalists the very best of success in their future scientific endeavors.”

“December 8th through December 12th is Nobel week, and I can’t think of a more outstanding way to celebrate that here in New York than with The Discovery Prize,” added Agre.

Laurie Krug’s laboratory researches herpes viruses that are associated with cancer. She is working with Dr. Balaji Sitharaman to pursue their idea of delivering molecular scissors to the site of virus infection using nanoparticles. “We need to understand how these viruses set up shop in specific cells, and what makes them wake up after years of dormancy in our bodies,” Krug says. “Our ‘nanotools’ will be a new approach to understanding how viruses cause disease.” Krug says this is purely exploratory science, with no initial hypotheses. “The preliminary data we generate through the support of the Discovery Fund will be instrumental to convince agencies such as the National Institutes of Health [NIH] and the National Science Foundation [NSF] that this technology can be applied to basic research investigations of fundamental biological questions, and may evolve towards translational applications to treat and possibly cure disease.”