January 28, 2013 Foundation News

Scientific Innovations Award Winners

Jean Hébert  Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Brian Litt, M.D., Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania 
In January 2013, the Brain Research Foundation announced the winners of its 2nd annual Scientific Innovations Award (SIA). The award was established to support ground-breaking research being done by distinguished investigators. The Foundation awarded two SIAs which are two-year grants totaling $150,000 each.  
Research institutions from across the United States were invited to nominate one faculty member to apply for the SIA. The BRF’s Scientific Review Committee evaluated many worthy SIA applications and selected the most promising ideas for funding. By selecting projects from highly experienced and productive scientists, the BRF supports novel approaches that will lead to significant findings in understanding the brain. The two outstanding projects that were ultimately chosen were from Jean Hébert, Ph.D. (Department of Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine) and Brian Litt, M.D. (Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania). 
Dr. Jean Hébert’s project titled, “How receptive is the adult neocortex to incorporating new projection neurons?” is an ambitious undertaking to develop an approach to disperse neurons throughout brain regions like the neocortex, which is used for our highest cognitive functions. The main neurons of the neocortex can be lost due to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease and ALS, or insults such as stroke or trauma. Once lost, these neurons are not replaced, leading to permanent functional deficits. Developing strategies to replace these lost neurons is a daunting task because of the complexity and size of the neocortex. 
The goal of Dr. Hébert’s proposal is to develop an approach for introducing new widely dispersed neurons in the adult neocortex, providing a paradigm for testing whether they can functionally integrate and eventually provide the substrate for improved cognitive function. 
Dr. Brian Litt’s project titled, “Nanodevices to treat neurological diseases,” takes an innovative look at building a nanoscale-based technology platform that delivers therapy for neurologic and psychiatric disease at the cellular level. Many of the most common neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as epilepsy, depression, Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, are caused by problems with brain networks. These problems usually result from dysfunction in one particular type of cell or one location in the brain. 
Dr. Litt proposes a new, cutting edge technique to treat brain network disorders with nanodevices. He proposes to make devices that can deliver medications, genes, electrical stimulation and other treatments directly to the affected cells, without disturbing other areas in the body. His belief is that treatments with nanodevices will be much more effective than current protocols and that they have the potential to dramatically improve treatment of the causes underlying some of the most common neurologic and psychiatric illnesses. 
 “The role of the BRF is to help fill the funding gap through our research grant programs so breakthrough projects like these can get off the ground,” said Terre Constantine, BRF Executive Director. “Our ultimate goal is to facilitate the discovery of new scientific knowledge that will result in improved treatments and cures for neurological diseases. We’re enthusiastic about the potential of the work Dr. Hébert and Dr. Litt are doing to help achieve this goal.”