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Salk scientist wins dual awards

Axel Nimmerjahn

Axel Nimmerjahn

Axel Nimmerjahn, assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair, was recently distinguished with two significant honors. He was named a 2011 Rita Allen Scholar and earned a highly selective grant from the Whitehall Foundation.

The Rita Allen Foundation awarded Nimmerjahn $500,000 over five years to pursue research into the role of glial cells in neurovascular coupling, the temporal and spatial coupling between increased neural activity and cerebral blood flow. Glial cells constitute the majority of human brain cells and dynamically interact with neurons and other cells. Once thought to play only a passive, supportive role, glia are now emerging as active players in healthy brain function. Glia are also critically involved in many injuries and diseases, including spinal cord injury, glioma and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Nimmerjahn is one of just seven scientists out of 28 candidates that the Rita Allen Foundation selected for the honor this year and only the third Salk faculty member to receive the award.

"Our mission is to invest in transformative ideas and projects that result in significant breakthroughs and solutions to serious health challenges," explains Elizabeth G. Christopherson, the foundation's president and chief executive officer, Rita Allen Foundation. "We have traditionally embraced research with above-average risk and groundbreaking possibilities and are proud of the over 100 scholars, including a Nobel Laureate and members of the National Academy of Sciences, who have received our financial support."

The Whitehall Foundation grant will provide Nimmerjahn with $223,000 over three years to support research to better understand the contribution of astrocytes to normal brain function. Resolving this question will increase comprehension of the complex cellular processes underlying normal brain function and behavior, and could lead to the development of new treatments for neurological disorders.

"To be chosen for both these awards, which involve a rigorous, highly selective process, is an acknowledgement of Axel's outstanding scientific accomplishments," says Salk president William R. Brody. "I'm delighted these prestigious foundations have presented him with the recognition and support to facilitate his remarkable research."