October 11, 2013

Innovative research earns Salk scientist EUREKA award

Salk News

Innovative research earns Salk scientist EUREKA award

LA JOLLA, CA—The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Axel Nimmerjahn for a highly competitive EUREKA (Exceptional Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant. Nimmerjahn is an Assistant Professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holds the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair. The award, in the amount of $1.38M over four years, will support Nimmerjahn’s goal of better understanding the relationship between spinal cord physiology and brain activity and behavior. Data from this research should foster development of new treatment and rehabilitation strategies for spinal cord injury, tumors, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular dystrophy.

The EUREKA program was conceived specifically to assist scientists such as Nimmerjahn to test new, innovative ideas or tackle major methodological or technical challenges. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., says that, “EUREKA awards reflect the NIH’s continued commitment to funding transformative research, even if it carries more than the usual degree of scientific risk. The grants seek to elicit those ‘eureka moments’ when scientists make major theoretical or technical advances.” One of the technical advances included in Nimmerjahn’s study will be the development of new tools and approaches for minimally invasive optical recordings from spinal cord microcircuits during animal behavior and in previously inaccessible tissue regions. Currently, imaging in the spinal cord, the primary neurological link between the brain and other parts of the body, is limited to superficial dorsal regions in anesthetized animals. Anesthesia precludes animal behavior and alters cellular activity, limiting effective study of how cellular activity in the central nervous system (CNS) affects behavior. By developing new tools for study of cellular network activity in behaving mice he hopes to transform our understanding of CNS physiology and pathology.

Nimmerjahn is only the second scientist from Salk to be honored with this prestigious award. Fred Gage, a Professor in the Institute’s Laboratory of Genetics, was the recipient of a EUREKA grant in 2009.

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. In developing the EUREKA program, the agency’s directors reasoned that, “For science to move forward in leaps rather than in incremental steps, scientists need opportunities to test unconventional ideas and to try novel methods for solving difficult technical and conceptual problems that stall a field’s progress.” The EUREKA awards “provide support for innovative, high-risk biomedical research initiatives with the potential for achieving significant health impact.”

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of
cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

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