Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Associate Professor Alison Barth Receives Two SfN Awards
Associate Professor Alison Barth was recently awarded both the Research Award for Innovation in Neuroscience (RAIN) and the Career Development Award from the Society of Neuroscience (SfN).
RAIN is given annually to “honor imaginative, innovative research that will advance novel ideas and have the potential to lead to significant breakthroughs in the understanding of the brain and nervous system and related diseases,” according to SfN’s website. As a recipient of the award, Barth will receive $25,000 in unrestricted funds for her laboratory.
“We are just delighted to have the opportunity to use some of the new genetic tools now available to understand neural function, especially during learning,” Barth said. In particular, she plans to expand the capabilities of the fosGFP transgenic mice she developed roughly six years ago, as more sophisticated reporters of neural activity.
With the development of the new transgenic mice, Barth hopes to improve understanding related to the timing of neural activation during different phases of learning by using different fluorophores to label neural ensembles. The current mice only report one short time interval. Additionally, she hopes to be able to control and ultimately recapitulate neural activity or ensemble activity by using gene expression to mark and reactivate a set of cells, which direct a specific type of behavior or perception. “Until you can experimentally recreate the pattern of neural activation that the animal experienced when it was learning something, you won’t be able to understand it. Triggering neural reactivation is just critical,” said Barth.
The mice themselves will be able to be used for sleep, addiction, learning, memory, and spinal cord injury studies. The current mice have already been utilized within the Barth lab to invoke gene discovery related to epilepsy or seizure disorders. Furthermore, other researchers have used the mice to study additional organ systems, such as immune system function.
From the very beginning, the fosGFP mice have been distributed freely. Roughly 70 laboratories around the world have asked for and are using these mice. “Any resource has a limited timeframe before a new invention or tool makes it obsolete. We really wanted to let this be out there, while it was still useful,” said Barth.
The original transgenic mice were also the first of their kind to be published. Although many other investigators had tried to create transgenic mice to report neural activity, Barth was the first to make a working transgenic reporter gene of this kind and currently holds a patent on this approach.
Her leadership in sharing the tool and innovation in creating it are a part of why she received the second award from the Society of Neuroscience, the Career Development Award. This early career award is given annually to two recipients whose published work provide significant contributions to science and show leadership in the areas of ideas, organization or other ways.
Earlier this week, Barth was presented with both awards at the society’s annual meeting in Washington D.C.