The UNC School of Medicine welcomed David Anderson, PhD, the Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, as the 17th Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize recipient this week for “his discovery of neural circuit mechanisms controlling emotional behaviors.”
Anderson, who is the Director of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, remarked that he was proud to receive this award because of UNC’s international role as a leader in neuroscience research and UNC School of Medicine’s reputation as a top research institution, in general, among public and private universities around the world.
“Also, I’m excited to receive this award because of Edward Perl’s legacy, discovering a specific kind of neuron involved in pain,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who joined Caltech in 1986, was the first scientist to isolate a multipotent self-renewing stem cell for neurons and glial cells, the two main cell types in the brain. Anderson’s lab identified growth factors and regulatory proteins that control whether stem cells differentiate into neurons or glial cells. He also made critical contributions to understanding nerve-blood vessel interactions.
Mark Zylka, PhD, Director of the UNC Neuroscience Center, was a postdoc in the Anderson lab, and during his introduction of Anderson at the Perl-UNC Prize lecture, Zylka noted that Anderson’s 50-plus postdocs and grad students have gone on to leadership roles and stellar research careers at some of the best institutions in the world.
“This is a testament to David as an incredible mentor and a brilliant scientist,” Zylka said.
Anderson is now using cutting-edge techniques to map and manipulate neural circuits that underlie emotional behaviors in both mice and fruit flies. These innate behavioral responses and associated internal states form the evolutionary underpinnings of emotional behavior in higher organisms. These studies may ultimately aid in a better understanding of human psychiatric disorders.
In 2007, Anderson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
The news release on Anderson winning the Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize was published in January.