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Innovative Program “Drafts” Researchers to Support People Impacted by Rare Diseases

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young investigator draft-rare disease-rare diseases-draft day-uplifting athletes
Courtesy of Uplifting Athletes, Inc.

The Young Investigator Draft shines a spotlight on the critical need for rare disease research and honors emerging researchers who are making an impact.


Andy Shay

Uplifting Athletes

There is an energy that surrounds the annual NFL Draft, filled with hope and anticipation rooted in the belief that the future is bright. 

The excitement among the teams, fans, and players for the league’s most public source of player recruitment is unmistakable because what happens on that day can potentially shape or alter the direction of any franchise.

Inside Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, a draft of another kind has taken place the past five years. The talent pool grows deeper and more diverse with each passing year. There’s excitement around what the draft class will mean to the future of rare diseases and the patient communities they serve.

With the first pick in the Young Investigator Draft …

The Uplifting Athletes Young Investigator Draft celebrates some of the best and brightest young scientists whose research will positively shape the lives of people impacted by rare diseases. On this night, science — and the impact it is having on the more than 30 million Americans affected by rare diseases — takes center stage.

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Courtesy of Uplifting Athletes, Inc.

A young investigator is a medical researcher who has completed their doctorate within the past 10 years and is working at a research lab under the supervision of a mentor in the field of rare disease research. Without funding, these young researchers are unable to explore innovative ideas and advance necessary research.

“At the end of the day, what drives me is helping people,” said Dr. Michael Gonzalez, a member of the 2022 Young Investigator Draft class from the University of Pennsylvania. “And I chose to focus almost entirely on rare diseases because not a lot of scientists are looking into the corners for these rare diseases.”

Dream come true

For athletes, getting drafted is the day they dream of. The hours of blood, sweat, and tears poured into their craft culminates on Draft Day. For these dynamic and extraordinary scientists, getting drafted isn’t what drives them, but it inspires them to dream big.

The Young Investigator Draft is a unique event where athletes, people impacted by rare disease, scientists, life science professionals, and many others unite to cheer on these scientists, because together they believe that, through science, there is a hope tomorrow will be better than today.

Uplifting Athletes teams up with rare disease patient advocacy organizations, which are formally organized communities created to support the specific needs of an individual disease population, to infuse rare disease researchers with funding to impact as many of the more than 7,000 known rare diseases as possible. 

A Young Investigator Draft grant is awarded to the top researchers who apply through a joint application with a patient advocacy organization, which also cofunds the grant with Uplifting Athletes. The co-funding of these unrestricted grants doubles the money each young investigator receives, and allows them to expand the basic scientific research they are doing in order to acquire the data needed to support much larger and competitive grant proposals.

At the 2022 Draft, nine promising young investigative rare disease researchers were honored. Over the past five years, the Young Investigator Draft has grown and, after this year’s event, 34 researchers across North America have been awarded more than $620,000 in grant funding.

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