NYU's Neville Sanjana, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and at NYU School of Medicine, has been awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Neville Sanjana
Neville Sanjana. Image courtesy of the New York Genome Center

New York University’s Neville Sanjana, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology and at NYU School of Medicine, has been awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The awards, announced by the White House, identify outstanding scientists and engineers who will broadly advance science and the missions important to federal agencies.

The PECASE Awards are the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers and “who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology,” the White House stated in naming this year’s winners.

They are conferred annually at the White House following recommendations from participating federal agencies. Sanjana, a core faculty member at the New York Genome Center who is developing new tools for precise gene repair using CRISPR, a pioneering gene-editing technology, was nominated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently, Sanjana and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute uncovered dozens of novel genes involved in resistance to therapies that harness the immune system to fight cancer.

The findings, which appeared in the journal Nature, stemmed from the team’s development of an innovative use of CRISPR—a “two-cell type” CRISPR assay system that specifically examines how genetic mutations in one cell can affect the interaction between two different cell types.

Under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) award, given in 2018, Sanjana is now working to accelerate the creation of new methods for precision gene editing to repair disease-causing mutations.

In addition, under a National Institutes of Health (NIH) “New Innovator” Award, a five-year, $2.9 million grant, Sanjana and his team are in the process of identifying the sequences and proteins that govern gene expression.

In the long-term, Sanjana seeks to construct a catalog of all functional elements in the noncoding genome—the part of the genome that does not provide instructions for making proteins but which is increasingly seen as vital in understanding how cells function—in order to more fully comprehend the nature of diseases such as cancer.