WASHINGTON, DC — The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will present the Young Investigator Award to Feng Zhang, PhD, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Diana Bautista, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley. Established in 1983 and supported by AstraZeneca, the $15,000 award recognizes the outstanding achievements and contributions by a young neuroscientist who has recently received his or her advanced professional degree. The award will be presented during Neuroscience 2014, SfN’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

“Drs. Zhang and Bautista are two young neuroscientists who have demonstrated remarkable dedication to their work,” SfN President Carol Mason said. “Their creative research is advancing their respective fields, and their commitment to helping other scientists succeed is an inspiration to us all.”

As a graduate student at Stanford University, Zhang was instrumental in advancing the development of optogenetic technology, which allows researchers to manipulate genetically modified neurons using light. Specifically, Zhang pioneered a more effective way to insert light-sensitive proteins into neuron membranes and later developed laser technology to help target specific types of neurons in living animals. Now, as an assistant professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, Zhang is working to develop new tools that modify the genome of animals so he can test whether such variations contribute to psychiatric disease.                                             

Bautista is interested in how the body detects and responds to the surrounding environment. As a graduate student at Stanford University, she identified calcium channels called TRP channels in the membranes of sensory neurons that are activated by stimuli such as cold. As an associate professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Bautista has since uncovered a cellular mechanism of itch that does not rely on the chemical histamine. Such findings may one day lead to novel treatments that block this mechanism, offering relief to patients with chronic itch that is insensitive to traditional antihistamine treatment. Bautista is also widely recognized for her dedication to furthering the education of young and underrepresented scientists.

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 40,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system. More information about the brain can be found at BrainFacts.org, a public information initiative of The Kavli Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, and SfN.