UAB neuroscientist earns new innovator award from NIH

The New Innovator awards support investigators in the early stages of their careers.

University of Alabama at BirminghamStream Summer Thyme 8Summer Thyme, Ph.D. neuroscientist Summer Thyme, Ph.D., is a recipient of the Director’s New Innovator award from the National Institutes of Health. The award is part of the NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supported by the Common Fund, which has bestowed 103 new research grants to support highly innovative scientists who propose visionary and broadly impactful, meritorious behavioral and biomedical research projects. 

The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program supports investigators at each career stage who propose innovative research that, due to its inherent risk, may struggle in the traditional NIH peer-review process despite its transformative potential. Investigators seeking program support are encouraged to think beyond traditional bounds and to pursue trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH’s mission to advance knowledge and enhance health.

The Common Fund oversees programs that pursue major scientific opportunities and gaps throughout the research enterprise, are of significant importance to NIH, and require collaborations across the agency to succeed.

Thyme, an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Neurobiology in the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, is one of 72 scientists nationwide to garner the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007. It supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received an NIH R01 or equivalent grant.

In her research, Thyme is developing new methods for dissecting the genetic underpinnings of neurodevelopmental disease. She does this by studying zebrafish, which share more than 70 percent of their genes with humans. Zebrafish are inch-long, minnow-like fish with five blue stripes. Their genome has been completely sequenced, and their brains are transparent and have architecture and cell types similar to those of mammals. This transparency enables visualization of brain development and neural activity.  

Thyme earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry at Scripps College. She completed her Ph.D. studying protein engineering at the University of Washington, where she was an NSF Graduate Research fellow. At Harvard University, Thyme was a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Research fellow and a National Institutes of Mental Health K99/R00 recipient in Alexander Schier’s laboratory, establishing the expertise with zebrafish that has laid the groundwork for her research at UAB.

NIH issued eight Pioneer awards, 72 New Innovator awards, nine Transformative Research awards and 14 Early Independence awards for 2022. Funding for the awards comes from the NIH Common Fund, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Cancer Institute.