NIH grant awarded to physician-scientist to develop novel ways to manufacture cellular therapies

Steven J. Jonas, MD, PhD
Steven J. Jonas, MD, PhD

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Dr. Steven Jonas, clinical instructor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and scientist at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, with a five-year $1.25 million grant through its High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The prestigious NIH Director’s Early Independence Award will support his work developing new technologies to manufacture treatments that use genetically-engineered cells as therapies for people with cancer and other life-threatening genetic diseases.

 The NIH Director’s Early Independence Award is given to “exceptionally creative scientists” working on highly innovative, high-impact biomedical research. The award also helps junior scientists, like Jonas, move into independent research positions.

“Each year, I look forward to seeing the creative approaches these researchers take to solve tough problems in biomedical and behavioral research,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “I am confident the 2019 cohort of awardees has the potential to advance our mission of enhancing health through their groundbreaking studies.”

Jonas’ goal as he establishes his research program at UCLA is to bring new people from diverse scientific backgrounds together to explore solutions to the complex challenges that physicians and researchers face in bringing gene and cellular therapies to patients. His team is currently developing technologies using soundwaves and other stimuli to deliver gene-editing machinery into cells to produce these treatments more quickly, safely and effectively. This research program is enabled by Jonas’ multidisciplinary expertise as a physician scientist and engineer.

“As a physician, I see firsthand that there is a need for new tools to really move forward with how we treat and manage our patients' conditions,” Jonas said. “And as a scientist and engineer, I am able to serve as that bridge or nexus between the nanoscience community and medicine to find ways we can bring and apply the technologies that we are working on to address real-world clinical problems.”

Jonas is also a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research, the California NanoSystems Institute and the UCLA Children’s Discovery & Innovation Institute.