2022 Minnesota Futures Awards Announced

Minnesota Futures: OVPR grants $500k to lead pollution & cancer research projects (including images representing lead pollution and cancer cells)

The Office of the Vice President for Research is pleased to announce the recipients of this year’s Minnesota Futures Grant Program, an annual funding opportunity for research that addresses societal challenges and creates a meaningful impact on the world. This year OVPR granted nearly $500,000 to two projects: one led by Emilie Snell-Rood, associate professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, whose team is studying ways to mitigate lead pollution in Minnesota soil and water, and another led by Yasu Kawakami, associate professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development in the Medical School, who wants to build models to better understand the development of rare but deadly tumors.

Lead Bioavailability and Ecological Remediation Across the Twin Cities

Principal Investigator: Emilie Snell-Rood, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences


  • Nic Jelinski, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences
  • Jacques Finlay, Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences
  • Lee Penn, Department of Chemistry, College of Science and Engineering
  • Cara Santelli, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Biotechnology Institute, College of Science and Engineering

Lead pollution in soil and water is a concern throughout many residential and urban areas of Minnesota and disproportionately affects communities of color and lower economic status. Emilie Snell-Rood’s research project strives to reduce negative impacts of lead by first expanding knowledge of lead chemistry across the Twin Cities. Snell-Rood and her team will then experiment with new methods to immobilize lead found in ponds and soils. This research will hopefully provide guidance to cities, watershed management organizations, and other stakeholders on how to best mitigate lead pollution.

Investigating Epigenetic Mechanisms in the Development of Craniospinal Sarcoma

Principal Investigator: Yasu Kawakami, Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, Medical School


  • Andrew Venteicher, Department of Neurosurgery, Medical School
  • Tomoyuki Koga, Department of Neurosurgery, Medical School
  • Micah Gearhart, Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, College of Biological Sciences

Chordomas, rare tumors that form along the spine near the head, are associated with significant neurologic morbidity and resistance to chemotherapy. Researchers believe chordomas come from cells in a transient but important tissue found in developing embryos. More recently, researchers have identified that expression of a particular gene is essential for the development of a chordoma. However, more advanced models are needed for additional research. In this project, Yasu Kawakami and his team will develop models to build on existing knowledge and better understand how and why chordomas form.

About Minnesota Futures

Modeled after the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, the Minnesota Futures program supports extraordinary research by nurturing interdisciplinary ideas. The program helps develop projects to a point where they become competitive for external funding.

Since 2008, Minnesota Futures has supported research by faculty who go on to win substantial grants and whose innovations reach the market to potentially improve the lives of millions. The grants, supported by technology commercialization revenue, cover expenses of up to $250,000 over two years.

Learn more about the Minnesota Futures Grant Program and see past award recipients.