Skip to main content

NFL Players Cheer On Rare Disease Research

Uplifting Athletes presents $140,000 in research grants in the Young Investigator Draft.

Seven winners of the 2021 Young Investigator Draft

Young researchers in search of treatments and cures for rare diseases received $140,000 in unrestricted grants at last week’s Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft Presented by CSL Behring.

The 2021 grant recipients include:


Researcher: Peter M.J. Quinn, PhD

Field of Study: Genetics

Institution: Columbia University

Nominated by: Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation


Researcher: Sarah Sheppard, MD, PhD

Field of Study: Genetics

Institution: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Nominated by: Lymphangiomatosis & Gorham’s Disease Alliance


Researcher: Timothy Hines, PhD

Field of Study: Neuroscience

Institution: The Jackson Laboratory

Nominated by: Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association


Researcher: Qinglan Ling, PhD

Field of Study: Genetics

Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Nominated by: Cure SURF1 Foundation


Researcher: Adele Mossa, PhD

Field of Study: Neuroscience 

Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Nominated by: DDX3X Foundation


Researcher: Neha Nagpal, PhD

Field of Study: Genetics

Institution: Boston Children’s Hospital

Nominated by: Team Telomere


Researcher: Ukpong Eyo, PhD

Field of Study: Neuroscience

Institution: University of Virginia

Nominated by: SLC6A1 Connect


The seven winning scientists were announced by NFL players who support Uplifting Athletes’ mission to harness the power of sports to raise awareness about rare diseases. Presenters included Ryan Bates (Penn State/Buffalo Bills), Shaun Bradley (Temple/Philadelphia Eagles), Joe Charlton (South Carolina/Carolina Panthers), Brandon Copeland (Penn/Atlanta Falcons), John Lovett (Princeton/Green Bay Packers), Riley Dixon (Syracuse/New York Giants), and Trace McSorley (Penn State/Baltimore Ravens).

“Our Young Investigator Draft shines a spotlight on the critical need for rare disease research and honors researchers who are making an impact,” said Uplifting Athletes Executive Director Rob Long, who survived a rare brain cancer. “We believe these all-star scientists deserve to be lauded with the same excitement and fanfare afforded to college and professional athletes, many of whom partner closely with us to leverage their own platforms to support our mission.”

The Young Investigator Draft is inspired by the NFL Draft, but shifts the focus from the selection of emerging talent on the football field to recognizing the next generation of promising researchers. The draft is one of several signature initiatives created by Uplifting Athletes to raise awareness and research funding for rare diseases. This year’s celebration was held virtually and streamed live across Uplifting Athletes’ social media channels.

Grant submissions for the Young Investigator Draft were thoroughly evaluated by an expert panel of scientific advisors, and advanced through two stages of review prior to final selection. Each of the 2021 grant recipients was nominated by a patient advocacy organization recognized by Uplifting Athletes as a priority partner for this year’s draft, with grants equally co-funded by Uplifting Athletes and the nominating group.

Since its inception in 2018, the Young Investigator Draft has awarded more than $440,000 in grant funding to 25 rare disease researchers across North America. CSL Behring has served as the event’s title sponsor since year one.

“CSL Behring is proud to continue supporting this unique program that builds enthusiasm for the next generation of biotech leaders and the promise of their research,” said Kevin Kovaleski, Vice President, Global Commercial Development, Transplant, CSL Behring. “As a values-based organization, we are really encouraged by this year’s Underrepresented Researchers in Medicine initiative to improve inclusion in medical research.”

The 2021 draft marked the first to highlight Uplifting Athletes’ Underrepresented Researchers in Medicine (URM) initiative. The URM initiative aims to provide opportunities for rare disease researchers from diverse backgrounds, and to celebrate and fund their work through the draft.