Science Market Update

CUMC Scientist Wins $100K Neuroscience Prize for Nervous System Research

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Wed, Mar 13, 2013

neuroscience prize lectureDr. Thomas Jessell is a developmental neurobiologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the latest recipient of the Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience, which includes a $100,000 award. In the Jessell Lab in the Hammer Health Sciences Building, researchers study the vertebrate central nervous system to understand how neurons become encoded at the embryonic level, particularly in the spinal cord. The Scolnick Prize singles out Jessell's work for identifying signaling molecules and transcriptional code that establish a linkage between functional circuitry and motor behavior. Also a member of Columbia's Motor Neuron Center, which is dedicated to the study of motor neuron diseases like ALS, Dr. Jessell is a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and part of the larger Columbia Neuroscience interdisciplinary research community. He will travel to Boston in April to accept the prize and deliver a lecture (see image at right). The Scolnick Prize is given out by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. According to McGovern chairman Robert Desimone, from a recent CUMC press release:

“We congratulate Tom Jessell on this award. He has been a pioneer in transforming developmental neuroscience from a descriptive to a mechanistic and molecular science.”

The larger significance of this mechanistic research mapping nervous system circuitry and its genetic coding will most probably be realized in the area of stem cell technology. After all, in order to program a stem cell to behave a particular way, scientists have to understand the cells they are trying to reproduce. In fact, Dr. Jessell's lab has already succeeded in converting embryonic stem cells into spinal motor neurons, to demonstrate that it could be done. It seems likely he will let someone else follow that trajectory through to the finish, however. There is still much basic research to be done at the system level for the Jessell Lab, which has 26 members (not including its PI), and describes its research goals in these functional projects:

  1. Linking motor neuron identity and muscle target connectivity
  2. Establishing sensory feedback connection with motor neurons
  3. Dissecting interneuron circuits that coordinate locomotion

neurobiology research

[Image courtesy of the Jessell Lab webpage]

Columbia is well on its way to becoming a major center of interdisciplinary neuroscience work. As we reported in an earlier blog (Columbia Brain Research Institute Advances With $200M Zuckerman Gift), thanks to a $250M philanthropic gift, the University is in the process of constructing a state-of-the-art neuroscience facility. The Greene Science Center will house the Mind Brain Behavior Institute and coordinate the study and teaching of neuroscience across many departments and the various campuses at Columbia. The university already has a long history of groundbreaking neurobiology research, exemplified most recently in the work of Dr. Jessell and acknowledged with the 2013 Scolnick Prize. The next stage will build upon that strength by opening up new collaborative and funding opportunities.

For an example of how diverse neuroscience projects can be one from another, consider that another recent Columbia neuroscience news piece links to an NPR article reporting on Columbia neuroscientists who study what they call the "cocktail party effect," whereby the brain shuts out certain noises in order to focus specifically on one sound or conversation. Fascinating.


Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a science research marketing and event-planning company that organizes university tradeshows nationwide. If you are a science researcher or lab supplier interested in networking with Columbia University Medical Center, our 3rd Annual BioResearch Product Faire™ event will be held on Tuesday October 1, 2013 at the Armory Track and Field adjacent to campus. Our shows are catered, casually professional, and always enlightening.

In addition to our Armory Track & Field show, we hold two other events in New York in the fall:

See our full 2013 Nationwide Show Schedule for all other dates.

Tags: 2014, 2013, Northeast, Scolnick Prize, New York, Columbia University, Neuroscience, Columbia, BioResearch Product Faire Event, Research, Stem Cell, New York City, Columbia University Medical Center, Northeast Region, lab supplier, NYColumbia University

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