NINDS’s Briggman Named 2014 Pew Scholar
By Shannon E. Garnett
Dr. Kevin Briggman, an investigator in the circuit dynamics and connectivity unit of the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, was recently named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. The scholarship, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, provides flexible funding to early career scientists who demonstrate excellence and creativity in their research.
“I am very excited to have been selected,” said Briggman. “The Pew scholars come from all areas of the biomedical sciences and I am looking forward to interacting with my fellow scholars. I am particularly eager to attend the yearly meeting that brings together recent scholars to help foster collaborations across research fields.”
The Pew scholars program, launched in 1985, has granted more than $130 million in funding to more than 500 scientists at the beginning of their independent careers. The rigorously competitive program awards recipients $240,000 over 4 years to pursue innovative, independent projects. This year, Pew awarded 22 scholarships to scientists whose fields of study range from genetics to neuroscience to biophysics.
Briggman earned his doctorate in computational neurobiology in 2005 from the University of California, San Diego. He then moved to Germany, where he undertook postdoctoral studies at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. He joined NINDS in 2011 as a tenure-track investigator.
“I knew NIH would be an environment in which I could pursue ambitious experiments and I am trying my best to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
Briggman’s laboratory focuses on understanding the neural circuits in the brain by mapping the function of individual neurons and how they are anatomically connected to each other. Each of his experiments contains both functional and structural components. For the functional component, his team uses fluorescence imaging to study large populations of neurons while animals perform behavioral tasks. In the structural component, the team uses electron microscopy to reconstruct brain maps at nanometer resolution.
With the help of 3D printers, the group also develops many of their own instruments, which allows them to customize microscopes to fit the particular needs of a given experiment. It also allows them to fix anything that breaks.
The lab is currently studying the circuits responsible for the representation of odors in mice brains and discovering how zebrafish process visual information. Specifically the team is investigating the circuits that allow newly born zebrafish to locate, track and capture their prey—all within a virtual reality environment.
“The zebrafish is a particularly attractive species because we can record from every single neuron in the fish brain noninvasively,” said Briggman. “The Pew scholarship will accelerate our studies of the zebrafish nervous system. It will allow us to add personnel to the lab to focus on analyzing the large-scale electron microscopy datasets we generate.”
The goal of Briggman’s lab is to produce whole-brain activity and connectivity maps that will provide a template for studying behavior at the cellular level and could pave the way toward the treatment of disorders in which sensory processing goes awry.
NIAID Hosts 2014 Pew Latin
|Dr. Juan David Ramirez Gonzalez
In addition to its scholars program, the Pew Charitable Trusts also funds the Pew Latin American Fellows (PLAF) Program in the Biomedical Sciences, which provides support for young scientists from Latin America to receive postdoctoral training in the U.S. Dr. Juan David Ramírez Gonzalez, a native of Colombia and a 2014 Pew Latin American fellow, is conducting postdoctoral research in molecular parasitology in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Grigg, chief of the molecular parasitology section in NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research.
The PLAF program gives the scientists an opportunity to further their knowledge, promotes exchange and collaboration between U.S. and Latin American investigators and advances research in Latin America. PLAF provides a $30,000 salary stipend for 2 years and an additional $35,000 for supplies and equipment to help establish the scientist’s independent laboratory upon his/her return to Latin America.
Katz Honored by Austrian Dermatology Society
NIAMS director Dr. Stephen Katz (l) has been awarded the Austrian Society of Dermatology and Venereology Gold Medal, the highest honor given by this society, for “excellent scientific or practical contributions in the field of dermatology or venereology.” This award is made only every 2 to 3 years. The society’s president, Prof. Erwin Tschachler (r), presented the medal to Katz recently at the Austrian ambassador’s home in Washington, D.C. Tschachler said the award honors “a person who has given outstanding contributions to the development of dermatology/venereology and who is seen by our society as a signpost for the younger generation.”