Stanford University neurobiology professor wins Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize

Published on February 20, 2013 at 12:06 AM · No Comments

Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College have announced that the Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology has been awarded to Carla Shatz, PhD, the Sapp Family Provostial Professor in Neurobiology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Shatz's work has advanced understanding of fundamental principles of early brain development with the discovery that neuronal activity prior to birth is essential for later formation and refinement of connections in the visual system. Her work has important implications for understanding how the visual system refines its connections-work that has contributed to our understanding of critical periods of brain wiring in developmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Dr. Shatz's selection as this year's Sackler Prize recipient is in recognition not only of her pioneering achievements in the understanding of early brain development, but also of her leadership in the field of neuroscience and her track record of mentorship.

"Dr. Shatz has provided some of our most profound insights into the way the brain matures during early life, including the importance of neural activity in shaping development. Her work provides a blueprint for understanding how brain function is molded at very young ages. She is a wonderful pick for the prize that commemorates Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler's legacy and his passion for understanding the biological basis of neuropsychiatric disorders," said Jay Gingrich, MD, PhD, director of the Columbia Sackler Institute and the Sackler Institute Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

"I am thrilled about this year's recipient of the prize. Not only has Dr. Shatz provided new insights into early brain development that have important implications for neurodevelopmental disorders, she has been a world-class leader in integrating a multitude of disciplines necessary for understanding the complexities of the human brain. This interdisciplinary approach to bridging disparate scientific views-with unusual harmony-is a philosophy shared across the Sackler Institutes, as part of Dr. Sackler's vision," said B.J. Casey, PhD, director of the Sackler Institute and the Sackler Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

The Sackler Prize is selected by a committee of 15, including faculty from each of the six Sackler Institutes, programs, and centers: Weill Cornell Medical College; Columbia University Medical Center; Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow; University of Sussex; King's College London; and McGill University. Dr. Shatz will hold grand rounds at Columbia and Weill Cornell at the end of February and the beginning of March.

Dr. Shatz said, "I am thrilled and honored to receive this wonderful recognition from the Sackler Institutes in the name of this distinguished family. Understanding fundamental mechanisms of brain development and the dynamic interplay between nature and nurture are essential for treating, and someday curing, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia."

Asked about the most unexpected insight from her own work, she said, "Discovering that nerve cells in the baby's brain spontaneously send signals from the eye to the brain's visual centers long before vision. It is as if the brain is running test patterns and rehearsing for vision long before birth, and we know that this rehearsal is a key part of brain-circuit tuning during development."

Dr. Shatz is director of Bio-X, Stanford University's pioneering interdisciplinary biosciences program that brings together faculty from across the entire university-clinicians, biologists, engineers, physicists, and computer scientists-to unlock the secrets of the human body in health and disease.

In 1976, Dr. Shatz was the first woman to earn a PhD in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, where she studied with Nobel laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel. In 1978, she joined the faculty as assistant professor of neurobiology at Stanford, where she was the first woman to receive tenure in the basic sciences.

Dr. Shatz is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute of Medicine and was recently elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. She has been a Howard Hughes investigator and received numerous awards, including the Gill Prize in Neuroscience, the Society for Neuroscience's Salpeter Lifetime achievement award, and the Ralph Gerard Prize in Neuroscience.

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