News Release

Smith Family Foundation awards $250k to Excellence Award alumni

Award increases Foundation’s commitment to early career researchers, honors philanthropic legacy of Richard A. Smith

Grant and Award Announcement

Thinkubator Media

October 25, 2022 (Newton, MA) - The Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation, a pillar of Boston’s philanthropic community and champion of supporting emerging biomedical leaders, will award a quarter million dollars to a brilliant researcher in the biomedical space. The prize will be announced at the 30th Anniversary of the Smith Family Awards Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research next week.

The inaugural Richard A. Smith Excellence in Biomedical Research Alumni Prize will be awarded to program alumna Dr. Emily Balskus of Harvard University for her contributions to advancing human health through her research into the microbiome. 

Dr. Balskus is an alumna of the Smith Family Awards Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research, founded by the late Richard Smith and his wife, Susan, to support and launch the careers of newly independent biomedical researchers. Their goal and the continued aim of the program is to help scientists at this early stage of their careers —a critical time when support is most needed.

“From inception as designed by Richard Smith, MIT Nobel Laureate Phil Sharp, and the Medical Foundation at Health Resources in Action, our peer-reviewed award program has sought to accelerate efforts in biomedical research and discovery.  We have endeavored to understand the unique challenges of early-career biomedical researchers in establishing their first independent lab,” said Rob Smith, Trustee of The Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation. “The challenges and time it takes to earn a degree, establish themselves, and create sustainable independent research platforms are hard, and the bar has gotten higher, not lower. If we want to continue to improve the human condition and healthcare outcomes, and keep top talent in the local ecosystem, these young researchers need support. Translating success in biomedical research is a long game. If you want to change tomorrow, it starts today.”

Dr. Balskus’ success has continued to build off of the Smith Family Foundation award. She earned the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in 2019, the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation in 2020, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Award in 2021.

“It is an amazing honor to receive the Richard A. Smith Excellence in Biomedical Research Alumni Prize,” said Dr. Balskus. “I received my very first grant from the Smith Family Foundation, and the support allowed me, and my research group, to venture into an area that was new to us  – the human gut microbiome. That initial opportunity had a huge impact on the overall direction of our research program. It gave us the confidence to continue applying chemistry to understand the connections between the microbiome and human health and disease. I’m grateful to the members of my lab, past and present, for their dedication to our scientific vision, and especially thankful to Richard and Susan Smith and the entire Smith family for all that they’ve done over the years to support biomedical research and the careers of young scientists.”  

The successful investment the Smith Family Foundation has made in early career scientists is apparent in its alumni community. Since 1992, the Program has funded 187 scientists for a total investment of $40.1 million. Other recipients of the Smith Family Awards Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research include: 

  • Jay Bradner, President of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research
  • Ian Cheeseman, Faculty member at the Whitehead Institute
  • Piyush Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO at Naveris
  • Matthew Vander Heiden, Director of the Koch Institute of Integrated Cancer Research at MIT
  • Tyler Jacks, Founding Executive Director of the Koch Institute of Integrated Cancer Research at MIT; and the Co-Director of the Ludwig Center at MIT
  • Ankur Jain, Faculty member at the Whitehead Institute 
  • Melissa Moore, Chief Science Officer at Moderna 
  • Peter Reddien, Faculty member at the Whitehead Institute 
  • Silvia Rouskin, Assistant Professor of Microbiology, Harvard Medical School
  • Beth Stevens, Associate Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor of Neurology at the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital

The Smith Family Foundation Excellence in Biomedical Research 30th Anniversary celebration will take place on November 1, 2022, from 5:30-8:00 p.m. at the Harvard Club of Boston, located at 374 Commonwealth Ave. Boston, MA. The ceremony will include a presentation of the award, and a brief presentation by Dr. Balskus, followed by a Q&A session.  


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