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University of Iowa neuroscientist Calvin Carter wins NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for exceptional research

Date: Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Calvin Carter, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience and pharmacology in the University of Iowa Roy J and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and a member of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, is one of 58 early-career scientists from across the nation to receive a 2023 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.  

Carter will use the five-year, $1.5-million award (DP2 DK139545-01) to support his innovative research mapping the biological effects of electromagnetic fields, which are pervasive in modern society, from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to radio waves and the naturally occurring fields of the Earth.  

“The electromagnetic spectrum is a gold mine of discoveries to be made,” says Carter. “We are exposed to these invisible signals every moment and yet we do not understand their biological or health effects. I am excited about the potential for new cures that are hiding in plain sight for some of the most common and deadly diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or diabetes. My vision is to harness electromagnetic signals to create a new class of wireless medicines that remotely take control of cells to improve health and fight disease.” 

Calvin Carter standing in the doorway of his office. He is wearing a cardigan over a t-shirt with a colorful design of an alien in a flying saucer.

As a postdoctoral fellow, Carter discovered the existence of biological mechanisms that enable mammals to sense electromagnetic fields and translate them into biological responses that alter metabolism. He found that a subset of these signals can be used to regulate blood sugar in diabetes. This work was completed under the mentorship of Val Sheffield, MD, PhD, Roy J. Carver Chair in Molecular Genetics in the Carver College of Medicine, and E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, former professor and head of the UI Department of Internal Medicine and Director of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, who is now chair of the Department of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. 

Carter, who also is an Advisor to the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council, joined the UI faculty in the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology in 2022 and continues to pioneer the use of electromagnetism to orchestrate metabolism as well as to better understand the health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. 

“My goal is to develop a comprehensive map of the biological effects of electromagnetic fields and to develop precision medicines that use wireless signals, instead of drugs to treat disease.”  

Carter’s work is charting a new path in medical research, says Ted Abel, PhD, director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute and professor and chair of neuroscience and pharmacology: “Dr. Carter is an exceptional scientist and an innovative thinker. His investigations of the biological effects of electromagnetic fields hold significant promise for improving human health in profound ways.” 

A graduate of Hofstra University (BS, biology) and the UI (PhD, neuroscience,) Carter holds joint appointments in the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Radiation Oncology in the Carver College of Medicine, as well as the Department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering. He is also co-founder of a medical device startup, GeminiiHealth, which focuses on building wireless medicines that use electromagnetic fields to tune metabolism and fight disease.  

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received a research project grant or equivalent NIH grant. The awards are one of four categories of grant awarded through the High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program, part of the NIH Common Fund. These prestigious awards are given to scientists proposing exceptionally creative high-risk, high-impact research. To learn more about the 2023 NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program awards, visit the NIH website.