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Javits Neuroscience Award Presented to Six Leading Scientists


For release: Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Six outstanding scientists who target neurological disorders at the cellular and molecular level were recently awarded the prestigious Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences.  The award provides for up to seven years of research funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the nation’s leading agency for research on the brain and nervous system and a component of the National Institutes of Health.

“The Javits Award recognizes extraordinary research that has the potential to better thousands of lives,” said Story C. Landis, Ph.D., NINDS director.  “It gives outstanding scientists opportunities to explore innovative, first-rate research which could truly change the way we think about certain diseases and conditions.”

Authorized by the United States Congress in 1983, the award honors the late U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits (R-NY), who was a strong advocate for research on a variety of neurological disorders.  Senator Javits suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disabling neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The award is given to individual investigators who have demonstrated exceptional scientific excellence and productivity in research supported by the NINDS and who are expected to conduct innovative research over the next 7 years.  It provides guaranteed funding for 4 years, after which 3 additional years may be awarded.  Investigators are nominated by either NINDS staff or members of the National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council, from a pool of competing applicants during a grants cycle.  The Council must approve each recommendation, with final selection being made by the NINDS Director.

The most recent recipients of the Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences are:

Anthony L. Auerbach, Ph.D., professor, department of physiology and biophysics, State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Dr. Auerbach investigates the molecular operations involved in protein activity in the nervous system and how synaptic receptors are activated by their transmitters.  Dr. Auerbach has just completed a Javits award, in which he found that shape changes in a receptor during activity are not smooth transitions from one form to another but more jagged wavelike patterns of activity brought about by around 20 moving parts.  He will now study how the subunits that form the receptor work together and how the protein limits its receptiveness to signaling mechanisms.

Tallie Z. Baram, M.D., Ph.D., professor of anatomy and biology and pediatrics and neurology, University of California at Irvine.

Dr. Baram is a physician scientist and a leading expert on how prolonged febrile seizures (childhood seizures caused by high fever) might lead to epilepsy in adulthood.  She has developed an animal model that shows prolonged febrile seizures cause certain changes in specific ion channels that result in hyperexcitability of the hippocampus and a form of limbic, or temporal lobe, epilepsy.  Similar changes are found in the hippocampus of humans with temporal lobe epilepsy and a history of early-life seizures.  This Javits award will allow her to identify seizure-provoking triggers in the animal model and determine how febrile seizures influence the ion channels and cell membrane expression.  Dr. Baram’s laboratory has developed techniques to image these molecular changes in brain cells which may be used in the future to identify persons who had febrile seizures and are at risk for adult epilepsy.

Eberhard E. Fetz, Ph.D., professor of physiology & biophysics, Washington National Primate Research Center, Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Fetz is a leader in the field of neural control of muscle activity and brain computer interfaces (BCIs) – using brain signals only to operate a computer or other devices.  BCIs translate the electrical signals from the brain associated with thought into a computer-directed command that lets the user communicate without peripheral muscle activity.  This Javits award (his second) will allow Dr. Fetz to continue studies on how cells in the motor cortex and spinal cord contribute to movement.  His other studies in animals hope to show how the nervous system adapts to a BCI as an artificial motor pathway, leading to a greater understanding of the capacity of the brain for plasticity.  Implications for retraining the brain via BCI devices could significantly improve quality of life for persons with paralysis, head trauma, motor neuron disease, or other conditions that affect the ability to move or control their own movement.

Martyn D. Goulding, Ph.D., adjunct associate and professor, Department of Biology, University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Goulding studies spinal cord development and the activity of interneurons (nerve cells that speak only with other nerve cells).  He has used innovative genetic approaches to study how specific subpopulations of spinal cord interneurons are generated during development and how they contribute to spinal cord function.  This Javits award will allow him to study the relationship of specific embryonic inhibitory interneuron subpopulations to known nerve cell types in the adult spinal cord, focusing on two previously identified subtypes.  By tracing the fate of these neurons into the spinal cord, he hopes to provide fundamental information about spinal cord physiology and the potential for new therapy to treat spinal cord injury.

Larry Swanson, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California.

Dr. Swanson is one of the nation’s leading neuroanatomists.  His work focuses on the organization of neural networks that control motivated behavior in mammals.  His earlier NINDS funding, including a previous Javits award, allowed him to combine powerful tract tracing and neuronal phenotyping techniques to challenge then-existing concepts of brain organization.  This Javits award will allow him to examine the anatomical and neurochemical organization of the lateral hypothalamic area, an area of neural circuitry that may be involved with basic drives and emotions, including defensive, reproductive, and sleep/wake behaviors.

Tony Yaksh, Ph.D., professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.

Dr. Yaksh studies the pharmacology and physiology of neurons in the spinal cord that regulate pain processing.  His research has led to a greater understanding of cell signaling processes in the spinal cord which lead to an increased sensitivity to pain and modulation of analgesic responses.  Through this Javits award he will further study themes involving cell signaling related to facilitated pain processing and hopes to find novel targets for persistent pain states.  His studies will include the role of microglia – cells which interact with neurons, in part by producing an inflammatory response to injury or other insult – and receptor systems in regulating spinal activity regarding pain.

The NINDS, a component of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, is the nation's leading agency for research on the brain and nervous system.  More information about the NINDS is available at its website, www.ninds.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the Nation's Medical Research Agency - includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.  It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.  For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

Last Modified January 31, 2007