Stanford's newest Nobel laureate - Thomas Südhof, MD - talked with reporters from around the world during a conference call from Baeza, Spain, earlier today. Among the topics discussed: the daunting challenges of understanding how the brain works.
“We should be a little more humble about this wonderful organ, the brain,” Südhof said, as he described how difficult it is to study a system where reactions occur in thousandths of a second.
Südhof believes his research into the basic underpinnings of brain functions may eventually allow us to understand why neurons and synapses die in Parkinson’s disease. His hypothesis is that Parkinson’s may be caused by broken chemical pathways that lead to a deficit of a protein that is like “an oil that makes sure that the wheel doesn’t squeak.” He’d like to understand these pathways better, to perhaps locate a point in the process where interventions might counteract the resulting degeneration of nerves.
He added, “Studying the brain’s trafficking of signals is absolutely crucial to understanding Autism and Alzheimer’s disease.”
When asked about the nation's research environment, Sudhof expressed concerns about shrinking budgets and the erosion of societal ethics:
Western civilization is based on science and… our search for truth. There’s a significant percentage of the population that thinks the truth isn’t important. It worries the hell out of me. We need to fight for that [unbiased] information. It’s at the core at what our civilization stands for.
At the end of the conference, Südhof offered advice to college students embarking on their careers. “…Follow your passions and work that satisfies you, over the amount of money you can make," he said. "I have met so many unhappy rich people.”
Previously: Stanford’s Thomas Südhof wins 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Stanford’s newest Nobel winner on the prize: It’s an “incredibly beautiful” honor
Photo by Robert Malenka, MD, PhD