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Heather Pinkett receives a Hartwell research award

Scientist will use funding to target antibiotic-resistant bacteria in middle ear infections

Heather Pinkett
Heather Pinkett

Heather W. Pinkett, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at Northwestern University, has received a 2016 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award for her work advancing children’s health.

Pinkett was selected for her proposal to design high-affinity peptides to block antibiotic-resistant bacteria implicated in recurrent middle ear infections in young children. This infection is the most common respiratory tract infection of infancy and early childhood.

Pinkett is one of only 12 researchers recognized nationwide this year as a Hartwell Investigator by The Hartwell Foundation. This marks the fourth year in a row that a researcher affiliated with Northwestern has received this honor.

“I will use the Hartwell funding to understand how pathogens resistant to multiple antibiotics survive in the host,” said Pinkett, a faculty member in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “The support will allow me to pursue complex, high-risk studies, which likely would not be funded by the National Institutes of Health. By targeting a pathogen’s nutrient system, we might be able to develop an alternative therapy to antibiotics.”

The knowledge gained from the development of middle ear infection inhibitors could serve as a template in the treatment of other common resistant pathogens, added Pinkett, who is also a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

4consecutive years a Northwestern researcher has been recognized as a Hartwell Investigator

Pinkett studies the structure and function of membrane proteins, which are located within a cell membrane and act as pumps to actively transport metabolites and compounds. The specific transporters she studies are medically relevant; they are responsible for the development of multi-drug resistance and have been implicated in numerous diseases. Her lab uses a combination of structural biology, biochemistry and molecular genetics to determine how these transporter proteins relate to their selective function.

Each year, The Hartwell Foundation invites a limited number of institutions in the U.S. to nominate faculty members involved in early-stage, cutting-edge biomedical research that has not yet qualified for significant funding from outside sources. The award provides support for three years at $100,000 in direct costs per year.

“The 2016 competition was once again very competitive, with innovative translational research that has the potential to benefit children,” said Frederick Dombrose, president of the foundation. “The Hartwell Foundation seeks to inspire innovation and achievement by offering individual researchers an opportunity to realize their professional goals.”

Pinkett will receive $100,000 per year for three years to support her research.

Information about applying for the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award is available through Northwestern’s Office for Research Development.

Notably, Hartwell institutions that win funding for an individual award also receive recognition in the form of a Hartwell Fellowship. The honor provides support for two years at $50,000 in direct costs per year to enable specialized training to a postdoctoral fellow in biomedical research. Northwestern will designate a qualified postdoctoral researcher in the early stage of his or her career to receive the fellowship.

The award funding counts toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, Northwestern’s university-wide fundraising initiative. The funds raised through the “We Will” Campaign are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. 

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