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Chenxu Zhu, PhD, Receives Prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for Development of Single-Cell Sequencing Tools

October 3, 2023
A group of seven scientists in lab coats pose as a group in a lab setting

Chenxu Zhu, PhD, is a New York Genome Center (NYGC) Core Faculty Member with joint appointments as Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. This is the fifth NYGC faculty member to receive the prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.

NEW YORK, NY (October 3, 2023) — Dr. Chenxu Zhu, an Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and a Core Faculty Member of the New York Genome Center, has been awarded the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award to fund an ambitious project to develop single-cell sequencing tools, known collectively as “multi-omics,” that will help track age-related changes in gene regulation programs, as well as cell decay, in brain cells from preclinical models.

Dr. Chenxu Zhu

The prestigious award provides $2.9 million over the five-year course of a project. The Director’s New Innovator Award was created in 2007 and focuses on supporting “early-stage investigators of exceptional creativity who propose highly innovative research projects with the potential to produce a major impact on broad, important areas.”

“I am incredibly honored and humbled by NIH’s recognition of our vision of studying the biology of brain aging with innovative single-cell multi-omics technologies,” said Dr. Zhu, who is also an Assistant Professor of Computational Cancer Systems Biology and Genomics in Computational Biomedicine in the Institute for Computational Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “I also appreciate NIH’s funding and am excited about performing the research projects.”

Dr. Zhu’s immediate goal is to understand the multiple epigenetic changes, including chemical modifications of the genome that regulate gene expression, that occur in individual brain cells during aging. To do that, he needs to create a set of single-cell sequencing tools that will allow him to model the location and timing of changes in epigenetic factors regulating gene expression that are “written and erased” during this period.

He plans to develop four different single-cell sequencing technologies. The first will track how epigenetic regulation of gene expression is turned on and off in brain cells. The second will track DNA damage and repair in the brain cells. The third tool will measure the correlation between the states of regulatory elements and the genes they target. The fourth technology will allow Dr. Zhu and his team to map the locations of cells acquiring these changes.

“If we can identify changes in the gene expression program and where damage accrues, we can determine which parts of the process have the most significant impact on aging,” he said.

Additionally, Dr. Zhu believes the tools will be helpful for many other scientists, particularly those studying cancer. He explained that scientists may use the tools to map genetic and epigenetic changes and interactions between cancerous and non-cancerous cells. He said that information is vital for understanding the mechanisms that drive cancer and how to treat it.

“These tools could be broadly applied to biological systems,” Dr. Zhu said. “They can impact a wide range of biomedical research.”

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award is supported by the National Institutes of Health under Award Number DP2GM154011.

About the New York Genome Center
The New York Genome Center (NYGC) is an independent, nonprofit academic research institution that serves as a multi-institutional hub for collaborative genomic research. Leveraging our strengths in technology development, computational biology, and whole genome sequencing, our mission is to advance genomic science and its application to novel biomedical discoveries. NYGC’s areas of focus include the development of computational and experimental genomic methods and disease-focused research to advance the understanding of the genetic basis of cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and neuropsychiatric disease. We are committed to prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is fundamental to promoting greater collaboration, innovation, and discovery.

About the NIH Common Fund
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, NIH-wide programs. Common Fund programs are managed by the Office of Strategic Coordination in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives in the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices.
More information is available at the Common Fund website:

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit


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