Department of Medicine

How important is early support to a research career?

Shirit Einav

Dr. Shirit Einav

"I cannot overemphasize the importance of seed funding for a young investigator."

Shirit Einav, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) and of Microbiology and Immunology, spoke those words during an interview stimulated by her recent receipt of both a 4-year Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society and 5-year funding through an NIAID U19 grant for Centers of Excellence for Translational Research.

Those recent grants are not the seed funding Einav is referring to, however; the seed funding, which is so critical for investigators just starting out on their research careers, came a few years earlier and in several forms.

Einav’s research focuses on better understanding virus-host protein interactions and their roles in viral infection and pathogenesis. These mechanistic studies are combined with translational efforts to apply this knowledge to the development of broad-spectrum host-centered antiviral therapies. While her lab focuses mainly on hepatitis C (HCV) and dengue (DENV) virus, there are also studies of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and of West Nile virus, ebola virus, and other emerging viruses via collaborations.

The Einav lab has been supported by several seed grants. Early on, in 2012, came pilot funding from the Translational Research and Applied Medicine (TRAM) Program in the Department of Medicine, which encourages interactions between research and clinical scientists while supporting projects that aim to bring research discoveries from the lab to the bedside. Preliminary data generated from the TRAM-supported study formed the basis for a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinical Scientist Development Award, which Einav received a year later. This ongoing translational project focuses on determining the therapeutic potential of a novel antiviral strategy that was discovered at the Einav lab for treating multi-drug resistant HIV.

Einav has also received seed grant support from additional Stanford sources including the Stanford Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiatives Seed Grants Program, the Cooperative Centers for Human Immunology (CCHI), the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health (CIGH), and the Stanford Consortium for Innovation, Design, Evaluation and Action (C-IDEA).

In addition, Einav says, she has “been lucky to participate in the Stanford SPARK program.” Created by Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, SPARK aims to save lives, improve health, and lower costs by bridging the gap between academia and industry. SPARK selects 10-15 projects that show promise of advancing to clinical study within a few years and provides modest funding, mentoring, and advice to guide the projects through the drug or diagnostic development process.

“These programs created opportunities for my lab to engage in higher-risk projects,” says Einav. “They provided not only seed funds, but also the benefit of interacting with a broad range of experts. This included scientists engaged in cutting-edge interdisciplinary biomedical research through BioX, and volunteers from the pharmaceutical, biotech, and investment sectors engaged in drug development through SPARK. These opportunities clearly had a significant impact on my research program and my ability to obtain these two recent larger grants.”

With her recently-awarded Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society, Einav will be studying the roles of clathrin adaptor proteins-mediated pathways in HCV infection and the pathogenesis of HCV-induced cancer. Awarded by NIAID, the U19 will support Einav’s efforts to accelerate novel host-centered broad-spectrum antiviral countermeasures through repurposing.

With such impressive support from the University, foundations, and the Federal government, how will Einav measure success? “Realistically,” she says, “while our data thus far is very promising, most drugs undergoing development fail. Regardless, we are learning a lot along the way and, in parallel, creating a pipeline of novel targets and compounds, which should enable us to do it better the next time.”

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