Dr. Timothy Ryan Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Dr. Tim Ryan

Dr. Timothy Ryan, professor of biochemistry in anesthesiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive.

Dr. Ryan was among 120 new scientists in the United States and 24 internationally named this year to the National Academy of Sciences, a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars established by an Act of Congress in 1863.

“I’m gratified and humbled to join the cadre of excellent scientists who are members of the National Academy of Sciences,” said Dr. Ryan, who is also a tri-institutional professor of biochemistry. “I’m also happy to say that what I’m doing right now is the most exciting science of my career.” 

Dr. Ryan’s research focuses on the biochemical processes that occur in the brain where neurons connect, called synapses, sharing that he has been fascinated with how these work for most of his career. “What has caught my interest the most has been the link between how sensitive our brains are to metabolic problems and whether this is a particular issue at synapses,” he said.

About a decade ago, Dr. Ryan developed a new way to measure the concentration of an essential molecule for storing and transferring energy in cells, known as adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP), using advanced optical technologies. The discovery launched his exploration into understanding what happens to neurons when synapses have sufficient or insufficient ATP.

Using laboratory cultures of rodent neurons, Dr. Ryan and members of his lab recently discovered insufficient ATP activity in synapses may play a critical role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder affecting dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Their discovery may represent a new treatment target for the disease.

“Understanding the basics of how things work is satisfying,” said Dr. Ryan, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Scholar and was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “But in the last three years, my work has suddenly intersected with findings that could be clinically impactful, and that’s truly exciting.”

Additionally, three scientists from Cornell’s Ithaca campus were elected this year: Dr. Mario Herrero, professor and Nancy and Peter Meinig Family Investigator in the Life Sciences, Department of Global Development; Dr. Steven Strogatz, the Susan and Barton Winokur Distinguished Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Mathematics; and Dr. Peter Wolczanski, the George W. and Grace L. Todd Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. The 2024 elections bring the total number of active members to 2,617 in the United States and 537 internationally.

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