Society for Neuroscience Presents the Young Investigator Award
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) will present Viviana Gradinaru, PhD, and Weizhe Hong, PhD, with this year’s Young Investigator Award. The $15,000 award, supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, recognizes the outstanding achievements and contributions by a young neuroscientist who has demonstrated scholarly independence. The awards will be presented during SfN’s Awards Announcement Week 2020.
“The Society is pleased to honor Drs. Gradinaru and Hong, two exceptional researchers who have already made major contributions to neuroscience,” SfN President Barry Everitt, PhD said. “They have demonstrated the ability to tackle big questions in neuroscience, develop new techniques, and complete studies that contribute novel insights with implications for human behavior and brain disorders.”
Gradinaru, a professor of neuroscience and biological engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), investigates circuits affected by neurodegeneration, such as those responsible for locomotion, reward, and sleep, with the goal of improving behavioral outcomes with deep brain stimulation and gene therapy. She has established herself as a leader in developing new neurotechnologies, having created numerous optogenetic actuators and sensors, tissue clearing and imaging technologies, and gene-delivery vehicles, all in her independent lab, and all now used by hundreds of laboratories worldwide due to her dissemination and training initiatives. She continues to drive novel technology development and her future work promises a deeper understanding of the mammalian brain in health and disease. Her work is already being translated for human benefit, with optogenetics, tissue clearing and viral vector technologies licensed by companies for gene therapy and diagnostics.
As a doctoral student at Stanford University, Gradinaru developed and used new optogenetic methods to explore the mechanisms of deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease. She then worked to extend and optimize these methods and apply them to the study of several other circuits and behaviors in a series of productive collaborations. In 2013 and 2014, Gradinaru co-authored papers describing a new method to map intact mammalian brains and bodies by making them transparent, called CLARITY. Most recently, her group at Caltech overcame the long-standing challenge of crossing the blood-brain barrier by engineering viruses to deliver cargo with cell specificity to the entire central nervous system via simple IV injections. These viruses, described in a series of impactful papers driven by Gradinaru, are now used by hundreds of laboratories worldwide and have opened up new areas of research. The quality of her work has been recognized with NIH Director’s New Innovator and Pioneer Awards, a Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, an Outstanding New Investigator Award by the American Society of Gene and Cell Theray, a Pew Scholar Award, and the 2019 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, among others.
Hong is an associate professor of biological chemistry and neurobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine. In his laboratory, he combines a variety of experimental and computational techniques across molecular, circuit, and behavioral levels to study the general principles of how social behavior is regulated in the brain. Hong’s research offers fundamental new insights into the neural circuit mechanisms underlying social behavior, and has important implications for their dysregulations in disorders including schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.
Hong’s doctoral research at Stanford University, for which he won several prestigious awards, was focused on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of wiring specificity during neural development in fruit flies. For his postdoctoral studies at the California Institute of Technology, he made a remarkable transition from fly developmental neurogenetics to neural circuits underlying complex mouse behaviors. Hong has published top-quality papers on the neural mechanisms of social and emotional behaviors and also developed a powerful automated tracker and classifier for social behaviors in mice. Most recently, his lab used head-mounted mini-ature microscopes on mice to demonstrate that, during social interactions, the brains of mice show interbrain correlated activity. The impact and importance of Hong’s work has been recognized with awards including an Early Career Award from the Society for Social Neuroscience, a Mallinkrodt Scholar Award, a Vallee Scholar Award, a Searle Scholar Award, a Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, and a McKnight Scholar Award.
These 2020 Young Investigator Awards are made possible with support from Sunovion Pharmaceuticals. Sunovion’s vision is to lead the way to a healthier world. The company’s mission is to broadly contribute to society through value creation based on innovative research and development activities for the betterment of health care and fuller lives of people worldwide.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of nearly 36,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.