The National Academy of Engineering has announced today that Karl Deisseroth, the D. H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, will be one of their newly elected members.
Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to “engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature” and to “the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education.”
Recognizing their outstanding contributions to the advancement of science and human progress through their pioneering, innovative and collaborative research, the NOMIS Award is enabling their continued investigation into the fundamental mechanisms of neurodegeneration (Aguzzi), the use of big data to identify better therapies for children with mental disorders (Currie), and the neurocomputational basis of simple decision making across species (Rangel).
NOMIS Awards are presented to pioneering scientists and scholars who, through their innovative, groundbreaking research, have made a significant contribution to their respective fields. Their bold ideas and unique approaches involve interdisciplinary collaboration and apply a broad range of methods, building bridges across the boundaries of disciplines.
Adriano Aguzzi is professor and director of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland. He has dedicated most of his professional life to understanding the molecular basis of prion diseases, combining transgenetics with molecular and immunological techniques. He clarified the crucial steps in the pathogenesis of the disease, discovered the cells and molecules involved in prion neuroinvasion, and elucidated the mechanisms leading to brain damage in these diseases. Aguzzi’s discoveries are enabling novel approaches to the diagnosis, prophylaxis and therapy of prion diseases and other neurodegenerative disorders. His NOMIS-supported research project is titled: Exploring the Locales of Cognitive Decline: Cellular and Molecular 3D Atlases of Brain Pathology in Aging and in Neurodegeneration.
Janet Currie is the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in Princeton, NJ, United States. Currie’s research focuses on health and wellbeing, particularly of children. She addresses socioeconomic differences in health and access to health care, environmental threats to health, and mental health. Currie co-directs Princeton’s Center for Health and Wellbeing and the Program on Children at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Carolyn Shaw Bell Award for furthering the status of women in the economics profession, and honorary doctorates from the University of Zurich and the University of Lyon. Her NOMIS-supported research project is titled: Harnessing Big Data to Improve Children’s Mental Health Treatment.
Antonio Rangel is the Bing Professor of Neuroscience, Behavioral Biology, and Economics, and Head Faculty in Residence at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA, United States. Rangel studies the computational and neurobiological basis of human decision making, employing a variety of tools from neuroscience, economics, psychology and computer science, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), among others. His NOMIS-supported research project is titled: Using Triangulation to Characterize the Neurocomputational Basis of Simple Choice.
Blood from young adults is being trialled as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease by a firm that wants to use the therapy to target neurodegenerative conditions.
Alkahest, a firm co-founded by Tony Wyss-Coray of Stanford University, California, has already tested blood-based treatments in people with Alzheimer’s disease. In the latest trial, 90 people with Parkinson’s – mostly in their 70s and 80s – will receive injections five days in a row, and then again three months later.
2018 was a banner year for discoveries about our species’s evolution and extinct relatives like the Neanderthals. Here are the biggest finds, sorted according to how they fit into our evolutionary story.
The Little Foot skeleton may be an unrecognised species
Little Foot is a near-complete skeleton of an Australopithecus, a kind of hominin that lived in Africa between 2 and 4 million years ago. Ronald Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa found the skeleton in Sterkfontein cave in the 1990s and has spent 20 years meticulously excavating it. The first detailed analyses finally came out in late November. Little Foot was an elderly female who seems to have sustained an arm injury in her youth. She ate an almost entirely vegetarian diet.
In China, the first genetically modified babies are said to have seen the light of day. This once-taboo act shows how far genetic engineering can revolutionize life on the planet. Swiss radio and television company SRF’s Wolfram Eilenberger interviewed NOMIS awardee and paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo and bioethicist Effy Vayena in the Sternstunde Philosophie (Great moments in philosophy) program “Tatort Genom: Vom Neandertaler zum Übermenschen?” (“Genome crime scene: from Neandertal to superhumans?”).
No field of knowledge has achieved greater progress in recent decades than human genetics. The questions involved are at the heart of our way of life: Which genes are specific to humans? How much Neandertal is still in us? Which forms of diagnosis and healing promise new techniques and intervention options? Are we on the cusp of a new, genetically optimized superhuman? Together with Vayena and Pääbo, Eilenberger discusses the limits, dangers and utopian possibilities of human genetics. The program is presented in German.
Pääbo is director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany and recipient of the 2017 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award. He is one of the founders of paleogenetics and became best known for his pioneering research on the Neandertal genome. Pääbo is investigating the genetic differences and functional consequences that occurred at the split between the modern human and their archaic human ancestors about half a million years ago.
According to an article on Phys.org, NOMIS awardee Victoria Orphan, together with a team of scientists from multiple institutions, have discovered a spectacular new hydrothermal vent field, named JaichMatt, during an expedition aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor. The vents were identified using Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institution’s (MBARI) Dorado autonomous underwater vehicle to conduct exploratory seafloor surveys with one meter lateral resolution. Simultaneously, MBARI’s new Low Altitude Survey System was used from Schmidt Ocean Institute’s remotely operated vehicle SuBastian to map the previously discovered Auka Vent field at centimeter scale resolution using co-located multibeam sonar, scanning laser Lidar, and stereo photography. The biological communities and the geological and geochemical characteristics of these vent fields were then explored and sampled using ROV SuBastian.
The team demonstrated the multidisciplinary use of submarine robotics while investigating an area of unique geologic activity where submarine volcanism in heavily sedimented basins results in high-temperature venting with unusual chemistry and geology. The nested-scale mapping approach allowed the team to efficiently progress from large-scale exploratory seafloor coverage to precision targeted sampling on and around the vents. The detailed maps also allow for quantification of various microbial and animal communities in precise relation to geologic features and areas of focused and diffuse hydrothermal fluid flow. “By using submarine robotics for seafloor mapping in combination with remotely operated vehicles, the science team has been able to interactively explore and sample animals, microbes, rocks, and sediment,” said David Caress, one of the principal investigators.
Orphan is the James Irvine Professor of Environmental Science and Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, United States and recipient of the 2018 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award. She is investigating the impact of marine viruses on the transformation of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in ocean surface waters and sediments, with the ultimate goal of incorporating the data from this unique stable isotope approach into trophic models for ocean ecosystems.