Amanda Lea named 2022 Searle Scholar, wins $300K to pursue research on effect of early-life environments on human health


Amanda Lea, assistant professor of biological sciences and Frank Kelly Dean’s Faculty Fellow in Climate Studies, has been named a 2022 Searle Scholar, an honor bestowed on 15 exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry. Lea will receive $300,000 in flexible funding to support her work over the next three years.  

Lea’s projects focus on the molecular effects of humans’ early environment on their health later in life—especially among less-studied populations. “Most work in this area so far has been highly biased toward individuals of European ancestry living in the Global North,” said Lea, also a faculty affiliate of the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute and the Evolutionary Studies Initiative. “It is rare that results from field-based, observational studies are paired with lab experiments that can address mechanism and causality. My Searle-supported research will integrate anthropology and genomics to study early life experiences, gene regulation and health in the Turkana people of northwest Kenya.”

Amanda Lea
Amanda Lea

Lea’s research is conducted in partnership with local communities and as part of The Turkana Health and Genomics Project, a long-term, collaborative research project with co-principal investigators at Princeton University and the University of Nairobi. “My Searle-supported research will also involve the development of lab-based, experimental assays for studying gene regulation,” Lea said. “This work will make an important contribution to global, anthropological and developmental perspectives on health.” 

“The Searle Scholars award is a huge honor, and I am immensely grateful for the recognition and support,” Lea said. “The award will allow me to pursue exciting, high-impact science at the early stages of my career.”  

“Amanda Lea’s research tackles complex biological problems through the bold, interdisciplinary thinking that sets Vanderbilt apart,” said C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “She is most deserving of this honor, which reinforces her tremendous potential within and beyond her field.” 

Scholars are selected by an advisory board of eminent scientists who choose the scholars based on rigorous standards aimed at finding the most creative talent interested in pursuing an academic research career. This year, 186 applications were considered from nominations by 176 universities and research institutions, according to an announcement 

“Our Scientific Advisory Board has identified 15 outstanding young scientists, whose work brings new perspectives to important questions in genetics, immunology, neurobiology—among other areas—and that will lead to new fields of study,” said Milan Mrksich, scientific director for the Searle Scholars Program. 

About Searle Scholars 

Since 1981, 662 scientists have been named Searle Scholars, and the program has awarded more than $147 million. Eighty-five Searle Scholars have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Twenty scholars have been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, known as the “genius grant,” and two Searle Scholars have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. The Searle Scholars Program is funded through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust and administered by Kinship Foundation. 

Limited Submission Opportunities and Research Development and Support

Lea was selected as the institutional nominee for the 2022 Searle Scholars Award, which was announced as a Limited Submission Opportunity (LSO). LSOs are external funding opportunities where sponsors limit the number or types of applications Vanderbilt University can submit. Research Development and Support (RDS) within the Office of the Vice Provost for Research manages the LSO process by proactively announcing funding opportunities, guiding researchers though a simplified application process, coordinating reviews from experts, and sharing constructive feedback on applications. Learn more about Limited Submission Opportunities and subscribe to the LSO listserv.

The grant proposal was also supported by RDS, which offers proposal development assistance for federal and foundation opportunities. Services include coordination for complex proposals, content development and draft review. Learn more about RDS proposal support services.