All-Star Scientists Receive $200,000 in Grants from Uplifting Athletes

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — It’s not often that elite athletes and scientists stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the quest for new research to treat and cure rare diseases. But that is exactly what powers Uplifting Athletes and its Young Investigator Draft. This high-energy event, inspired by the NFL Draft, awards $200,000 in research grants to 10 all-star scientists at the beginning of their careers. The Young Investigator Draft is presented by CSL Behring and is scheduled for February 4, 2023 at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Uplifting Athletes is a nonprofit organization that connects student-athletes across the country as well as professional athlete ambassadors with their local rare disease community to raise awareness and funds, and bring inspiration and hope to those impacted by rare diseases, which is approximately one in 10 Americans.

2023 Young Investigator Draft Class

In preparation for the sixth annual Young Investigator Draft, Uplifting Athletes is announcing today the selection of 10 emerging scientists to its 2023 Young Investigator Draft Class. Each member of the Draft Class will receive a $20,000 unrestricted grant to support their vital work in rare disease research.

“The members of our 2023 Young Investigator Draft Class represent a group of early-career, diverse researchers who are tremendous assets to the rare disease community,” said Rob Long, executive director of Uplifting Athletes. “These individuals stand to make a profound impact on the 30 million Americans impacted by a rare disease. We are thrilled to celebrate these scientists with the same spirit and fanfare that elite athletes receive and the college and pro athletes who join us every year in this effort love sharing the stage with these deserving researchers who represent so much promise for the future,” Long added.

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Including the grants to be presented at the 2023 Young Investigator Draft, Uplifting Athletes will have awarded more than $820,000 in grant funding to 44 rare disease researchers across North America since 2018. Every researcher is nominated by a patient advocacy organization (PAO) recognized by Uplifting Athletes as a priority partner, with grants equally co-funded by Uplifting Athletes and the nominating PAO.

The following talented scientists make up the 2023 Draft Class:

Researcher: Jithma Prasad Abeykoon, M.D.
Category of Research: Rare Cancers, Rare Blood Disorders
Institution: Mayo Clinic, MN
Nominated by: Erdheim-Chester Disease Global Alliance

Researcher: Zain Awamleh, Ph.D.
Category of Research: Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: The Hospital for Sick Children
Nominated by: TBRS Community

Researcher: Steven Baker, M.D., Ph. D.
Category of Research: Rare Muscular and Neurological Diseases, Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: University of Utah
Nominated by: Association for Creatine Deficiencies

Researcher: Kelly Crowe, Ph. D.
Category of Research: Rare Muscular and Neurological Diseases
Institution: Xavier University
Nominated by: Neuromuscular Disease Foundation

Researcher: Alex Felix, Ph.D.
Category of Research: Rare Muscular and Neurological Diseases, Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Nominated by: STXBP1 Foundation

Researcher: Nishanthi Mathiyalagan, Ph. D.
Category of Research: Rare Muscular and Neurological Diseases, Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Nominated by: TANGO2 Research Foundation

Researcher: Melanie Mumau, Ph. D.
Category of Research: Rare Autoimmune Diseases, Rare Blood Disorders, Rare Cancers
Institution: Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Nominated by: Castleman Disease Collaborative Network

Researcher: Riley Perszyk, Ph. D.
Category of Research: Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: Emory University
Nominated by: GRIN2B Foundation

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Researcher: Christopher Sande, M.D.
Category of Research: Rare Blood Disorders, Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Nominated by: Team Telomere

Researcher: Anna Stepanova, Ph.D.
Category of Research: Rare Muscular and Neurological Diseases, Rare Genetic Disorders
Institution: Brain and Mind Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College
Nominated by: The Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance

Grant submissions for the Young Investigator Draft are evaluated by an expert panel of scientific advisors prior to the selection of each year’s Draft Class. CSL Behring is a vital partner to Uplifting Athletes, serving as the title sponsor for the Young Investigator Draft since its inception in 2018.

“We are honored to support Uplifting Athletes’ Young Investigator Draft,” said Debbie Drane, Senior Vice President of Global Commercial Development at CSL Behring. “The impactful work that Uplifting Athletes leads through its Young Investigator Draft will make a significant impact in the advancement of rare disease research.”

Uplifting Athletes’ mission is fulfilled through the support of 26 collegiate chapters led by student-athletes from men’s football teams and women’s soccer and volleyball teams. Additional support comes from more than 80 ambassadors from across America’s professional sports leagues, including representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB). All leverage their own powerful platforms to give voice to the 30 million Americans diagnosed with rare diseases, helping to raise awareness, and fund critically needed research.

In addition to honoring the new Draft Class, the 2023 Young Investigator Draft will provide a forum to recognize the newest members of Uplifting Athletes’ Rare Disease Champion Team―an exemplary group of leaders in college athletics who have made a positive and lasting impact on people affected by rare diseases.

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For more information or to purchase tickets for the Uplifting Athletes 2023 Young Investigator Draft presented by CSL Behring, please visit https://charity.pledgeit.org/YID2023.

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