Carnegie’s Christoph Lepper Receives Prestigious Early Independence Award

Baltimore, MD—Staff associate Christoph Lepper, at Carnegie’s Department of Embryology, is one of 10 recipients of the NIH Director’s Early Independence Awards. This is the first year of the awards. Lepper will receive a prize of $250,000 per year for five years to carry out his creative research program as an independent investigator. The prize is designed to launch exceptional young scientists into independent positions directly out of graduate school.

Lepper received the award for his research on the biology of skeletal muscle. Contrary to standard belief, he discovered while a graduate student in Chen-Ming Fan’s lab at Embryology that genes needed by muscle stem cells in the embryo are not required by adult muscle stem cells.

Embryology director Allan Spradling remarked: “The staff associate program at Embryology has been nurturing outstanding young researchers like Christoph for more than 40 years. We are gratified that our experience with staff associates helped inspire this new NIH program, and that Christoph is among the first recipients of this prize.”

NIH established the award because recent trends show an increase in the length of the traditional scientific training period in addition to an increase in the time it takes for scientists to establish independent research careers. The award targets “the pool of talented young scientists who have the intellect, scientific creativity, drive and maturity to flourish independently without the need for traditional post-doctoral training.” The award reduces the amount of time they spend in training and gives them the opportunity to start highly innovative research programs as early as possible.

Lepper received his Bachelor of Science degree in biology and biotechnology from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied cartilage development in the Lian/Stein laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He was awarded his Ph. D. from the Johns Hopkins University in 2010.

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high impact, trans-NIH programs. The NIH Director's Awards Program is funded through the Common Fund and managed by the NIH Office of the Director in partnership with the various NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at