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Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz wins Kavli Neuroscience Prize

Yesterday, the Stanford Neurosciences Institute hosted the annual Shooter lecture with Eve Marder, PhD, of Brandeis University as the guest speaker. Unfortunately, as happens, she had forgotten to turn off her cell phone and got a flurry of calls mid-talk, to much laughter.

While heading to a reception for what she called a “brilliant” seminar, Stanford neuroscientist Carla Shatz, PhD, who is director of Stanford Bio-X, got an urgent message to return a call to Norway. That’s when she learned that she had won the prestigious Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, along with Marder and Michael Merzenich, PhD, of UCSF.

It turns out the flurry of phone calls during Marder’s lecture was the prize committee trying to reach her as well.

Shatz and Marder, in their own ways, have both done work to understand how our brains are sculpted by experience. Shatz says that even if two people are genetically identical, their brains are shaped by experiences and will be different. “That’s why you can never clone an exact copy of your beloved pet,” Shatz says.

In her case, Shatz studied the way the brain hooks up connections between the visual system during development. It turns out that before birth, the eyes start sending coordinated signals to the brain. These signals help the brain figure out which connections to keep and which to cut. The process continues after we are born, and occurs throughout the brain as we learn. Some of her recent work hints at ways that we might be able to help older brains learn as fluidly as our younger selves.

When I talked with Shatz about the award yesterday, she told me that whenever she wins something for her work it is always a gift. “As a scientist I do what I do because I love going to work every day,” she said. “Even when things aren’t working I look forward to when they will start working again. It’s never dull.”

Calvin Quate, PhD, an emeritus professor of electrical engineering was one of the recipients of the Nanoscience prize. In a story about the wins, Stanford President John L. Hennessy, PhD, commented, "For Stanford to have dual winners is an extraordinary honor and affirms the wide-ranging impact of the interdisciplinary research being done at the university."

Previously: Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz on learning and the value of collaboration, Science is like an ongoing mystery novel, says Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz, Taking the "molecular brakes" off learning, Pioneers in science and Stanford neuroscientist wins prestigious Kavli Prize, Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective
Photo by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service

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