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Pioneering Neuroscientist Honored With The Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology

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Dr. Fernando Nottebohm's Work Sheds Light on Birth of Nerve Cells in the Adult Vertebrate Brain

NEW YORK (April 11, 2011) — Weill Cornell Medical College and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons have announced that The Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology has been awarded to The Rockefeller University's Dr. Fernando Nottebohm for his seminal work in songbirds that has led to the discovery of neuronal replacement.

Dr. Nottebohm is currently the Dorothea L. Leonhardt Professor and head of the Laboratory of Animal Behavior at The Rockefeller University, where his work has offered some of the first irrefutable evidence that new nerve cells are constantly born in an adult vertebrate brain. His work with songbirds was also the first to establish an animal model for studying the neurobiology of vocal learning and its relation to the culling and recruiting of brain cells. He showed that brain pathways for vocalization emerge late in development, when many new cells are added as birds learn their song; this process is highly sensitive to hormones and social experience and continues into adulthood. Dr. Nottebohm conducts his studies of canaries, zebra finches and wild songbirds at the Center for Field Research in Ethology and Ecology in Millbrook, N.Y.

"By identifying the birth, migration and differentiation of new brain cells and showing that they are incorporated into the existing circuits of juvenile and adult songbirds and how this relates to ongoing behavior, Dr. Nottebohm has raised new possibilities in how we think about the brain, its development, repair and regeneration," says Dr. B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute and the Sackler Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "Throughout his productive career, Dr. Nottebohm's creative and collaborative research has been an exemplar of the interdisciplinary approach shared across the Sackler Institutes, helping to build the field of developmental psychobiology, from the study of genes and stem cells to the ecology, sociobiology, development and evolution of learning."

"Dr. Nottebohm was selected from a field of 19 stellar nominees. His innovative research sets a very high bar for future awardees, establishing this prize as one of the most prestigious of its kind," says Dr. Myron Hofer, director of the Columbia Sackler Institute and the Sackler Institute Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

The Sackler Prize is selected by a committee of 15, including faculty from each of the six Sackler Institutes, programs and centers: Weill Cornell Medical College; Columbia University Medical Center; Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow; University of Sussex; and McGill University. Dr. Nottebohm will hold grand rounds at Columbia and Weill Cornell in April of 2011.

"I am humbled to have been chosen for this prestigious honor," says Dr. Nottebohm. "This prize is crucially important for raising the awareness of and support for research in developmental psychobiology. I am pleased too that it recognizes how the study of song learning in birds has contributed to this still young and exciting field," says Dr. Nottebohm, noting that many are surprised, still, by the parallels between vocal learning in birds and human infants.

Asked about the most unexpected insight from his own work, he says that it was "the realization that there are brain cells born in adulthood that live only for a period of weeks or months and then, just as they came, are gone. This sloughing off of cells is not surprising when it occurs in our skin, or liver, or the lining of the gut, but we were not prepared to encounter it in the brain. This was new, and it was new, too, that even as some of cells were culled, others were added. The very thought that some circuits might be able to rejuvenate themselves in this manner was preposterous. Yet in the songbirds it happens all the time.

"It is hard to imagine," Dr. Nottebohm adds, "that our awareness of neuronal stem cells and spontaneous neuronal replacement in the adult healthy brain will not influence research aimed at correcting the ravages brought about by stroke and neurodegenerative disorders."

Born in Buenos Aires, Dr. Nottebohm earned his Ph.D. for work he did partly at the University of California, Berkeley, and partly at the University of Cambridge. He joined Rockefeller in 1967 as assistant professor and became associate professor in 1971 and professor in 1976. Dr. Nottebohm has previously been honored with the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, the Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science, the Ipsen Foundation Neuronal Plasticity Prize, the McKnight Foundation Senior Investigator Award in Neuroscience, and the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health Sciences. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology

The Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology recognizes researchers who have advanced our understanding of the developmental processes of mind, brain and behavior that contribute to normal development, and of the origins of mental illness. The prize aims to foster international cooperation among scientists and promote public understanding of their work. The prize is presented jointly every two years by the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. The first prize was awarded in 2008 to Dr. Avshalom Caspi of King's College, London, and Duke University.

The prize honors one of the most creative scientists in the field of developmental psychobiology, the late Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D., who began his career as a psychiatrist and pioneer researcher in biological psychiatry in the late 1940s at the New York State Department of Mental Health. During this early period, he published more than 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals, which highlighted the role of early childhood development in later psychiatric illness. In the early 1950s, Dr. Sackler, with his brothers, founded the pharmaceutical company known today as Purdue Pharma. The original prize was a gift in honor of Dr. Sackler's 90th birthday from his seven children, and the prize was endowed in 2009 by a gift from The Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation, Inc.

The Sackler Institutes at Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University Medical Center

The Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology was endowed and established at Columbia University Medical Center in 2000 by the Sackler Foundation–La Fondation Sackler and is dedicated to research into the complex processes underlying normal development as well as the origins of psychiatric illness, working at levels ranging from the molecular to the psychological.

The Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College, established and endowed in 1996 by The Sackler Foundation–La Fondation Sackler and certain Mortimer D. Sackler family members and related entities, is focused on research and training using the techniques of brain imaging, human genetics, electrophysiology and behavioral methods to study typical and atypical human brain development.

Columbia University Medical Center

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is now among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the most comprehensive medical research enterprise in New York City and State and one of the largest in the United States. Columbia University Medical Center is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital provider. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances — including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston, making Weill Cornell one of only two medical colleges in the country affiliated with two U.S.News & World Report Honor Roll hospitals. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.


Andrew Klein
ank2017@med.cornell.edu

Weill Cornell Medicine
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