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National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council Welcomes Six New Members

For release: Thursday, February 3, 2011

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) announced that six new members have joined its National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council. The council serves as the principal advisory body to NINDS regarding the institute’s research program planning and priorities.

“The new appointees represent a diverse group with expertise in several priority areas for our institute. These include conducting the highest quality neuroscience research, training future neuroscientists, therapy development, building collaborations with private industry, and partnering with patient-based organizations,” said NINDS Director Story Landis, Ph.D.  “I am pleased to welcome all the new members to our advisory council.”

NINDS is part of the National Institutes of Health and is the nation's primary supporter of basic, translational and clinical research on the brain and nervous system. The institute’s 18-member council, composed of physicians, scientists and representatives of the public, meets three times each year to review applications from investigators seeking financial support for biomedical research and research training. At today’s council meeting, Dr. Landis introduced the following individuals:

Ben A. Barres, Ph.D., currently chairs the Neurobiology Department at Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, Calif. His research on the interaction between neurons and glial cells in the nervous system has led to several pending patent applications. In addition to having authored numerous research publications, Dr. Barres sits on the editorial boards of several prominent scientific journals. He is a member of many distinguished advisory panels and committees, and previously served as chair and evaluator for the NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards. Dr. Barres also is acknowledged as a leading commentator on issues pertaining to gender, science and society. In 2008, the Society for Neuroscience honored Dr. Barres with the Women in Neuroscience Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes an individual with outstanding career achievements in neuroscience who has also significantly promoted the professional advancement of women in neuroscience.

Robert B. Darnell, M.D., Ph.D., is the Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of cancer biology at Rockefeller University in New York City and the director for science programs at the Center for Clinical and Translational Research for the Rockefeller University Hospital, where he is also senior physician.  In addition, he is an attending neurologist at New York City’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Darnell is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a leading expert in the study of paraneoplastic neurologic syndromes, a group of rare disorders triggered by an immune system response to common cancers. He pioneered the development of new methods to study RNA regulation in the brain, and his research has led to the discovery of neuron-specific systems for regulating RNA. His work has resulted in several awards, patents and Investigational New Drug applications. Dr. Darnell is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a former chair of the NINDS Board of Scientific Counselors.  

Sharon E. Hesterlee, Ph.D., recently became the senior director of research and advocacy at the Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.  Prior to that, she worked for nearly a decade at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).  As MDA’s vice president of translational research, Dr. Hesterlee established programs aimed at overcoming barriers in drug development. Subsequently, she became senior vice president and executive director of MDA Venture Philanthropy, helping to advance the funding and commercialization of new treatments for neuromuscular disease.  She has played an active role in managing and brokering public-private collaboration with industry partners.  Dr. Hesterlee also has experience in working with federal agencies, having served on the Department of Health and Human Services’s Muscular Dystrophy Coordinating Committee and as an adjunct member of the NIH Muscular Dystrophy Task Force.  She is currently a member of the board of directors for the Health Research Alliance.

Eve Esther Marder, Ph.D., is the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of neuroscience at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., where she is also head of the Division of Science. Dr. Marder is a past president of the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) and was elected in 2007 to the National Academy of Sciences.  She is also a member of the American Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Biophysical Society.  Her research has resulted in seminal studies of rhythmic motor pattern generation, neuromodulation, homeostatic regulation of neurons and networks, and the use of the dynamic clamp.  Dozens of her undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students have gone on to hold senior research and faculty positions at leading institutions around the world. Throughout her distinguished career Dr. Marder has garnered many honors, including the SFN’s Ralph W. Gerard Prize as well as the Women in Neuroscience Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award; a Merit Award from the National Institute of Mental Health; and the NINDS Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award.  Dr. Marder is also a member of the Institute of Medicine’s Neuroscience Forum.

Robert Enrico Pacifici, Ph.D., is chief scientific officer of CHDI Management, Inc./CHDI Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit drug discovery organization that supports an international network of research laboratories pursuing novel therapies for Huntington’s disease. Dr. Pacifici is responsible for the implementation and execution of the foundation’s translational research program.  He also is an adjunct professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.  Dr. Pacifici was formerly the site director and chief scientific officer for Eli Lilly's Research Triangle Park Laboratories. Prior to that, he was vice president of discovery technologies at Xencor, a biotechnology company specializing in developing protein therapeutics. For more than a decade he was a research director and laboratory head at Amgen, Inc., coordinating and directing research automation technologies, high throughput screening and other programs. Currently, Dr. Pacifici chairs the steering committee for the NINDS Spinal Muscular Atrophy Project.

Amita Sehgal, Ph.D., is the John Herr Musser Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Philadelphia, where she is co-director of the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. She is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Md. Dr. Sehgal’s research focuses on the molecular and genetic components of circadian rhythms and sleep. Her studies have helped characterize a molecular clock present in both fruit flies and humans. Her lab also has developed the fruit fly as a model system for studying sleep, showing that the rest phase in flies is a sleep-like state, which should help to answer important questions about the essential need for sleep. Dr. Sehgal serves as an editor for several leading research journals. In 2009, she was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine.


NINDS ( is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system.  The NINDS mission is to reduce the burden of neurological disease – a burden borne by every age group, by every segment of society, by people all over the world.

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 it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

Last Modified September 19, 2012