September 21, 2011

Salk scientist earns competitive grant from Whitehall Foundation

Salk News

Salk scientist earns competitive grant from Whitehall Foundation

LA JOLLA, CA—Axel Nimmerjahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair in Biophotonics has been awarded a highly selective grant from the Whitehall Foundation. He will receive $223,000.00 over three years to study the contribution of astrocytes to normal brain function.

Astrocytes, named for their characteristic “star shape”, have been traditionally considered members of the support crew, known as glia, which nourishes and protects neurons in the brain. More recently, they have emerged as sophisticated cellular players that are actively involved in regulating neural circuit development and function.

“This grant will help support research to determine whether and how astrocytes in awake animals regulate neural dynamics and perhaps behavior,” said Nimmerjahn. “Resolving this question is of significant importance that will increase our comprehension of the complex cellular processes underlying normal brain function and behavior.”

A better understanding of astrocytes’ role in the brain could lead to the development of new treatments for neurological disorders, many of which may result from, or areexacerbated by, defective or disordered glial function such as epilepsy or migraine.”Revising our understanding of glial cell function will change our approach to treating or even preventing disease,” said Nimmerjahn.

Nimmerjahn has created and continues to develop tools that allow researchers to directly visualize and manipulate glia in the intact healthy and diseased brain. This has led to key insights in glial cell biology, with broad implications for our view of brain function, which may eventually lead to novel treatments for neurodegenerative brain disease.

Prior to joining the Salk Institute, Nimmerjahn earned a doctorate in Physics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research/University of Heidelberg in Germany and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in Biology and Applied Physics at Stanford University in California.

“Axel’s achievement of the Whitehall Foundation’s grant is a testament to his scientific accomplishments,” said Salk Institute President William R. Brody. “His innovative research will have a profound impact on advancing our knowledge in developmental neurobiology and help give rise to new treatments for neurodegenerative brain diseases.

About the Whitehall Foundation:

The Whitehall Foundation is a non-profit corporation focused exclusively on assisting basic research in vertebrate and invertebrate neurobiology in the United States. The grant awards are extremely competitive and target projects concerned with neural mechanisms involved in sensory, motor, and other complex functions of the whole organism as these relate to behavior. It supports scientific studies with an overall goal to better understand behavioral output or brain mechanisms of behavior.

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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