Daniela Vallentin and Darcie Moore Receive Gruber International Research Award
WASHINGTON, DC — The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will award the Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience to Daniela Vallentin, PhD, of Free University Berlin and Darcie L. Moore, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The award recognizes two promising young scientists for outstanding research and educational pursuit in an international setting. The award, supported by The Gruber Foundation, includes $25,000 for each recipient and will be presented during Neuroscience 2016, SfN’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
“The work of Drs. Vallentin and Moore has substantially advanced our understanding of both normal function and disease-related processes in the brain,” SfN President Hollis Cline said. “Their findings, which shed light on the acquisition of complex skills such as speech during development, as well as the origin of age-related diseases, could potentially have therapeutic implications for humans.”
As a postdoctoral fellow at the New York University School of Medicine, Vallentin made seminal discoveries about the neural basis of observational learning. By recording the activity of single neurons in awake juvenile zebra finches, she investigated how they acquire songs from their adult tutors. Vallentin discovered that premotor neurons responsible for generating singing behavior also respond to the sound of the tutor’s song. Moreover, the activity of inhibitory neurons suppresses the responses of premotor neurons to specific song segments that have already been mastered, suggesting that time-locked inhibition plays a crucial role during song acquisition, enabling a piece-by-piece mastery of complex tasks.
Moore’s research is focused on unraveling the mechanisms behind the age-dependent decrease in adult neurogenesis. While working on her PhD thesis at the University of Miami, she identified a family of transcription factors that controls axon growth in retinal ganglion cells, revealing novel molecular insights into how neurons in the central nervous system lose their ability to regenerate early in development. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zürich, she discovered that replicating neural stem cells in older animals are less able to exclude damaged proteins compared to the stem cells of younger rodents. By revealing a novel mechanism by which damage accumulates in neural stem cells with age, this work could pave the way for new therapies for stem cell-associated conditions such as major depression and cognitive decline.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 38,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.