The Interstellar Initiative
Aligning Young Stars of Science to Tackle the World’s Most Critical Medical Challenges
“The Interstellar Initiative: Aligning Young Stars of Science to Tackle the World’s Most Critical Medical Challenges,” an initiative of the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) and the New York Academy of Sciences, aims to increase international and interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists early in their careers to catalyze scientific advancement.
The Interstellar Initiative brings together Early Career Investigators (ECIs) from around the world — selected via a competitive application process — and groups them into “Dream Teams.” With the guidance of leading senior researchers, each team develops a grant proposal centered on a novel scientific research question.
All ECIs and mentors are invited to participate in two workshops that convene at the Academy’s conference center in downtown Manhattan. At the first workshop, the teams are introduced and learn about their teammates’ expertise, then identify complementary research areas to jointly formulate a research concept under the guidance of their mentors. At the end of the workshop, teams present their ideas for additional feedback from both the mentors and their fellow ECIs. Funding is provided to each team to continue their collaborations between the two workshops, and the groups are advised to interact with their mentors as needed. At the second workshop, the teams fine-tune their proposals, continue to receive direction from their mentors, and present their updates to the group.
Following the second workshop, the teams are encouraged to submit their proposals for funding. Examples of agencies targeted by Dream Teams include: the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore, the Alzheimer’s Association, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, among others.
Dream Team Spotlight
When Japanese physicist Kumiko Hayashi of Tohoku University and neuroscientist Ephraim Trakhtenberg of the University of Connecticut met during the 2017 Interstellar Initiative, the synergies between their work were not immediately obvious. Through the Interstellar Initiative program, they discovered common ground that led to an exciting new research proposal: Hayashi and Trakhtenberg aim to devise new strategies to restore neuronal function following injury. As human cells mature, their ability to replicate is severely reduced. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in the brain, where the creation of new neurons exists only at very low levels in adulthood. Trakhtenberg’s work suggests that motor proteins may be involved in this loss. “If we can understand the dynamics of these proteins, we may be able to reverse the process,” he said. During the past several years, Hayashi developed novel algorithms that can be applied to motor protein measurement and analysis. “I don’t know much about neuroscience,” she said, “but it turns out that my algorithms can illuminate some mechanisms of the brain.” Using Hayashi’s algorithm and Trakhtenberg’s motor proteins expertise, the two hope to identify new therapeutic approaches that will help to increase the regeneration of neuronal function following injury.