U couple awarded $1.5 million each for research

David Masopust and Vaiva Vezys were each awarded $300,000 a year for five years.

Danielle Nordine

Taking bold, new approaches to researching autoimmune diseases and a possible vaccine for HIV has proven beneficial for University of Minnesota researchers and married couple David Masopust and Vaiva Vezys, who were recently awarded research grants totaling $1.5 million each. Masopust and Vezys are two of 55 researchers nationwide to receive the National Institutes of Health New Innovator Award, which provides researchers with $300,000 a year for five years to conduct their studies. Masopust and Vezys met in graduate school at the University of Connecticut and spent time working together at Emory University in Atlanta . They were married in 2007, shortly before moving to the microbiology department at the University, where they currently share an office. Masopust is researching how the body creates immunological memory after having a disease, and said his research could be applicable to creating a vaccine for HIV. Vezys is working to find out why autoimmune diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis persist the lifetime of a patient and why symptoms flare up and die down throughout the duration of the disease. âÄúDave wants to turn the immune system on and I want to turn it off,âÄù Vezys said. âÄúIt creates some fights at home,âÄù Masopust joked. Vezys said her interest in autoimmune diseases came from personal experiences with friends and family members who suffered from autoimmune diseases, while Masopust said his interest in biology came from a âÄúmorbid fascinationâÄù with the causes of diseases and from pop science books. Masopust said the NIH grant is an âÄúeffort to fill a voidâÄù in research, allowing scientists with more broad hypotheses to work on their research. âÄúThey were looking for something that was innovative, that had a high risk but the chance for a big payoff,âÄù he said. âÄú[The grant] allows you to skip ahead and try to take two or three steps forward.âÄù The New Innovator award is aimed at encouraging unique and innovative research, according to the NIH Web sit e, and is different from other grants because it allows applicants to explore more broad ideas and doesnâÄôt necessarily require preliminary data. âÄúIt was a joy to write the grant,âÄù Masopust said. âÄúAnd you donâÄôt say that very often.âÄù Although only 55 applicants were awarded the grant, Masopust said he and Vezys were both confident in their proposals, and said the grants are âÄúmoney well spentâÄù on their research. Head of the Department of Microbiology at the University, Ashley Haase, said the department is âÄúdelightedâÄù that Masopust and Vezys won the award, and said they are âÄúboth in their own right outstanding young immunologists.âÄù âÄúIt is wonderful to have such innovative researchers, and they have been a great benefit to the department,âÄù Haase said.