Real Genius is Awarded
By Ellen Kuwana
September 24, 2008
How would like to receive $100,000 each year for the next five years?
You can - all you have to do is be a "genius," as the awards from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation are informally known.
The money is to recognize outstanding work by young (well, relatively
young, most recipients are in their 30s and older) people at a "pivotal
point" in their career. All different people get the awards. This year,
nine scientists (of a total of 25 awardees) received a phone call to tell
them they were geniuses.
"The idea is to pick exceptionally creative people at an important
moment in their career and give them the financial freedom to pursue their
work," said Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation, as
reported in the Boston Globe newspaper.
Let's meet the two genius neuroscientists, who are both women:
- Rachel Wilson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of
Neurobiology at Harvard University. Check out her web site for some cool photos.
Dr. Wilson's lab does research on the tiny brain of the fruit fly to learn
more about how the senses of taste and smell work. One of the main
questions she is trying to understand is how the brain distinguishes
different smells. What -- you thought that was your nose's job? Yes, your
nose is important but those smells would mean nothing without the brain.
Other than figuring out how animals' sense of smell really works,
discovering what and how neural patterns work will shed light on other
complex biological questions such as language.
- Sally Temple, Ph.D., Scientific Director, New York
Neural Stem Cell Institute. Dr. Temple is a
developmental neuroscientist who studies how embryonic neural stem cells
turn into many different types of cells in the nervous system. This
research may lead to treatments for neurodegenerative disorders or for
nervous system tumors. Dr. Temple says it's amazing to think that these
starter cells have the "power to make a brain, and it's impossible to turn
away from that." One of her accomplishments has been to identify and grow
a line of cells that become glia, a type of nerve
cell that serves as support for the neurons they surround. Another aspect
of her research suggests that the limited success so far of using
embryonic stem cell transplants to repair neural damage might be due to
timing: the introduction of stem cells has been done at the wrong stage
of development. In other words, embryonic stem cell transplants might work
better if the stem cells were allowed to differentiate (develop into
different cell types) longer before transplantation. What is the goal of
this research? To be better able to treat and reverse damage to the
central nervous system damage caused by trauma, neurodegenerative
diseases, tumors, or stroke.
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