Carnegie Mellon Neuroscientist Alison Barth Receives Prestigious Sloan Fellowship-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, February 7, 2003

Carnegie Mellon Neuroscientist Alison Barth Receives Prestigious Sloan Fellowship

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Alison Barth has received a prestigious 2003 Sloan Research Fellowship Award on the basis of her exceptional promise to advance knowledge in her field.

Barth, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the Mellon College of Science, conducts research on the synaptic basis for learning and memory in living animals. The two-year, $40,000 Fellowship will allow her to extend research on her recently developed technology to identify neurons that are active while an animal learns.

"This grant will give me a head-start on creating second-generation technology for imaging neuronal function," says Barth, whose overall goal is to understand the dynamic properties of living neurons involved in the learning process, including their electrophysiological properties and their connections (synapses) with other neurons.

"Alison Barth is a very promising young faculty member chosen as part of the College's increasing emphasis on neuroscience," adds Elizabeth Jones, professor and chair of biological sciences at the Mellon College of Science.

Barth is one of 117 outstanding young scientists nationwide receiving the award, and one of only 15 neuroscientists so honored. Sloan Research Fellowships are also awarded in physics, chemistry, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, computer science, economics and mathematics.

Specifically, Barth is interested in how experiences modify the representation of sensory information in neurons in part of the brain called the neocortex, both during development and in adult animals. She has recently created a transgenic animal with enormous potential to study the activity of neurons as they "learn." The technology is based on the decades-long understanding that a neuron must transcribe new genes in order to firmly encode memories in the brain.

Barth has created a transgenic mouse where this memory-related gene transcription is coupled to expression of a "reporter" gene for the green fluorescent protein (GFP). Each time learning-related genes are activated, so is GFP. The result is an animal whose neurons literally glow when they are activated by stimuli and thus engaged in learning. Barth will use living slices of brain tissue to explore how different rearing conditions -- such as experiencing the world through one whisker - - transform the brain's circuitry. Such research ultimately could impact our understanding of neuron function and adaptability in diseases such as developmental disorders or stroke, and has broad implications for rational drug design in the treatment of many different psychiatric diseases.

Ralph E. Gomory, President of the Foundation, states in a Foundation release that "the Sloan Research Fellowships were created by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., in 1955 to provide crucial and flexible funds to outstanding researchers early in their academic careers. Through the years, these fellowships have helped the research careers of their recipients, and we are very proud to be associated with their achievements."

The Sloan Research Fellowship is the oldest program of the Sloan Foundation and one of the oldest fellowship programs in the country. It began in 1955 as a means of encouraging research by young scholars at a critical time in their careers when other support is difficult to obtain. Grants of $40,000 for a two-year period are administered by each Fellow's institution. Once chosen, Fellows are free to pursue whatever lines of inquiry most interest them, and they are permitted to employ fellowship funds in a wide variety of ways to further their research aims.

The Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University maintains innovative research and educational programs in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and several interdisciplinary areas. For more information, visit http://www.cmu.edu/mcs.

By: Lauren Ward