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Thread: UC Berkeley Neuroscientist Wins Award For Studies that May Help Cure Paralysis

  1. #1
    Senior Member Jeremy's Avatar
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    Jul 2001

    UC Berkeley Neuroscientist Wins Award For Studies that May Help Cure Paralysis

    News in Brief: UC Berkeley Neuroscientist Wins Award For Studies that May Help Cure Paralysis

    Monday, November 19, 2001

    A UC Berkeley neuroscientist won an award Saturday for his research that could help cure paralysis.

    Molecular and cell biology professor Mu-ming Poo was given part of a $40,000 prize in San Diego at the Neurotrauma Symposium, which is part of the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.

    Poo has specialized in studying how the nervous system works while an organism develops.

    He has researched how nerve cells sets up connections with other nerve cells so they can communicate with each other. As the organism develops, the connections, or synapese, are modified.

    With his research, he and his team's findings could lead to a way to treat sustained injuries to the spinal cord.

    Poo shared the 2001 Ameritec prize with Marie Filbin, a professor at the Hunter College, City University of New York.

    The Ameritec prize is awarded annually to scientists whose research makes advances in the search for a cure to paralysis.

    Poo, 53, came to UC Berkeley a year ago. He has previously taught at UC Irvine, Yale University, Columbia University and UC San Diego.

    He received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1974.

  2. #2
    Mu Ming Poo gave a very interesting and curious acceptance speech when he accepted the Ameritec award. He pointed out that there are two kinds of science: the standard deductive hypothesis-driven "hot" topic approach to science and a retrospective analysis of major dogmas in science.

    In most laboratories, when a student or a postdoctoral fellow comes to a faculty member, looking for a research project, the person is given a stack of papers on a "hot" topic that everybody else is working on. The person then embarks on a project, trying to get a project going that is on the "cutting" edge of science. This approach, as Mu-Ming Poo pointed out, is quite risky because most of the time you will get scooped by one or more laboratories before you get your act together and get your results published. Because dozens of laboratories are working at break-neck speeds on these topics, trying to "one-up" each other and usually only one or two laboratories would win the publication race while the remainder would be "me-too" papers.

    Dr. Poo then described the approach that he prefers. He tells the students to read the classic work on the subject, usually in textbooks. The students then try to extend the classic work. If it works and the application of newer techniques to the subject generates new twists and insights into the dogma, the work is publishable and a contribution. If it does not work, or at least the way that the classic study describes, the dogma can be struck down or revised. In the latter case, it would be a true contribution to the field. This is the approach that he and his students took to the question of axonal guidance.

    At the time when Dr. Poo and his students started the work, most laboratories believed that there are molecules that inhibit or repel growth and that there are molecules that attract axonal growth. The dogma was that these guidance molecules, which include Nogo, Mag, CSPG, semaphorins, and various cell adhesion molecules, each have their own receptors which mediate the repulsion or attraction of the growth cones. So, they started to replicate the classic studies from various groups that showed these effects of molecules on axonal growth. The first thing that they discovered was that many of the so-called growth inhibitory or repellant molecules do not always repel or stop growth. Rather, the molecules may sometimes attract the growth cones when they were supposed to repel them. Much depended on the age of the cells, where they came from, and the environment of the experimental preparation.

    At about the same time, Marie Filbin and her students had been showing similar variable effects of MAG and Nogo on axonal growth. They found that the behavior appeared to be regulated by cAMP levels in the spinal cords. Most of their work was being carried out in mammalian cells in culture while Dr. Poo was working at the University of California at Berkeley where there are very strong laboratories working on guidance molecules in drosophila and other invertebrate preparations, particularly the semaphorins. Combined, the Filbin and Poo laboratories overturned the classic dogma that the behavior of growth cones depended on inhibitory molecules and their receptors. Rather, it seems that the behavior of growing axons depended on the internal messenger states of the cells.

    This work has now completely changed the landscape of guidance molecules and suggest that neurons have enormous flexibility both in terms of the molecules that they respond to, the receptors that recognize these molecules, as well as the intracellular messengers that mediate their effects. Apparently, the behavior of the cells to their environment depend on all three sets of conditions. This has provided a world of therapeutic targets for manipulating regeneration. Combined with the work of other groups, such as Lisa McKerracher's work on Rho and C3, the last year has brought about dozens of new therapeutic targets for regeneration. It is also turning out, of course, that many of these growth messengers are closely linked with other messenger systems that mediate life and metabolism of cells.

    The Ameritec Awards to Mu-Ming Poo and Marie Filbin are richly deserved. The awards of $50,000 and a bronze statue of a person shooting an arrow into the sky represent recognition of basic science at its best. The recipients of the awards have full freedom to do whatever they want with the award monies, including spending it on research.


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