Max Planck Florida Researcher Receives Prestigious NIH New Innovator Award

October 2, 2023
Dr. Sarah Stern smiling, wearing a red top

JUPITER, FLORIDA: Research into the neural mechanisms underlying addiction and eating disorders has earned Max Planck Florida researcher Dr. Sarah Stern a prestigious new award from the NIH. Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) announces that Dr. Sarah Stern has been awarded an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. This award will provide Dr. Stern and MPFI with $2.85 million in research funding support over five years, and is part of the NIH’s High-Risk-High Reward Research Program of the NIH Common Fund 

Interoception is the body’s ability to sense its internal state and bodily sensations, such as hunger, heartrate and emotions, and dysfunction is thought to underlie both addictive behaviors and mental health disorders. The Stern Lab is using novel transcriptomic and calcium imaging methods to uncover how interoception is encoded in the brain, which will enable the researchers to gain insight into the neural underpinnings of the complex behaviors that underlie anorexia, addiction, and other psychiatric disorders.  

“I am incredibly honored to receive this award. Research into mental illnesses like eating disorders has traditionally been underfunded, and it is exciting to see the growing interest in this important area of investigation. My lab and I are grateful to the NIH for their interest and investment into this research,” said Dr. Stern.  

Established in 2007, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (NIA) is a highly selective award that recognizes early career researchers who demonstrate exceptional creativity and innovation in projects related to behavioral, social, or biomedical research. This is the second time in just two years that an MPFI researcher has received this award.  

Dr. Sarah Stern started her position as Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in January 2021, leading the Integrative Neural Circuits and Behavior research group. The laboratory’s current research focuses on understanding, from genes to circuits, how learning integrates with internal drives to produce flexible behavioral outcomes. 

Previously, Dr. Stern completed postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University with Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, where she focused on identifying top-down neural circuits and associated mechanisms underlying non-homeostatic feeding behaviors. During that time, she was awarded a Brain & Behavior Research Foundation NARSAD Young Investigator Award, an NIH F32 NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship, and an NIH BRAIN Initiative K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award. 

Dr. Stern earned her Ph.D. in 2014 from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the laboratory of Dr. Cristina Alberini, where she was supported by an NIH F31 predoctoral fellowship. For her graduate studies, she examined the role of Insulin and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 2 on memory consolidation and enhancement, as well as the role of astrocytic lactate release on long-term memory. Prior to that, Dr. Stern conducted research with Dr. Joseph LeDoux as an undergraduate student at New York University, where she graduated magna cum laude with Honors. 

Dr. Stern was named a STAT Wunderkind in 2021 and a One Mind Foundation Rising Star in 2022. 

This NIA is supported by the NIH’s High-Risk-High Reward Research Program of the NIH Common Fund and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health under award number DP2 OD034905-01. 


Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI), a not-for-profit research organization, is part of the world-renowned Max Planck Society, Germany’s most successful research organization with over 80 institutes worldwide. Since its establishment, 30 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists. As its first U.S. institution, MPFI provides exceptional neuroscientists from around the world with the resources and technology to answer fundamental questions about brain development and function. MPFI researchers employ a curiosity-driven approach to science to develop innovative technologies that make groundbreaking scientific discoveries possible.  

For Immediate Release

Contact: Katie Edwards, Head of Communication
Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience | +1 (561) 679-7395 | @MPFNeuro