TORONTO – A Toronto-based researcher is among three scientists receiving the world’s most valuable prize for brain research in recognition of their work on the mechanisms of memory.
Graham Collingridge, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai Hospital, shares the one-million euro Brain Prize with Tim Bliss, a visiting researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and Richard Morris of the University of Edinburgh.
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The Brain Prize, widely regarded as the “Nobel Prize for neuroscientists,” is awarded each year by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark to one or more scientists who have distinguished themselves through outstanding contributions to the field of brain research.
Collingridge’s focus is on the brain mechanism known as “long-term potentiation” (LTP), which underpins the life-long plasticity of the brain. His work, along with that of Bliss and Morris, has revolutionized the approach to understanding how memories are formed, retained and lost.
The British-born scientist’s discoveries are particularly important in efforts to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, in which the efficiency of brain synapses is altered. His work has contributed to a medication that temporarily slows down the progression of the disease.
“I am delighted to share this award,” Collingridge said in a statement Tuesday.
“Working on the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory has been both richly challenging and intensely rewarding for me. I am really excited about now translating discoveries about LTP into new treatments for dementia.”
Collingridge, a senior investigator at Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, came to Toronto last year from Bristol, England, where he is also a professor of neuroscience in anatomy at the University of Bristol.
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“Memory is at the heart of human experience,” Sir Colin Blakemore, chairman of the Brain Prize selection committee, said in a release from the Grete Lundbeck foundation.
“This year’s winners, through their ground-breaking research, have transformed our understanding of memory and learning, and the devastating effects of failing memory.”
Bliss, who earned his doctorate at McGill University in Montreal, is recognized internationally for his seminal research on the neural foundation of learning and memory. In 1973, he and Oslo researcher Terje Lomo co-authored a paper on LTP, the most widely-studied experimental model of how the brain stores memories.
In 1986, Richard Morris used a new method he had developed to show that LTP was necessary for laboratory rats and mice to learn to find their way around a new environment. He developed the Morris water navigation task, a water maze widely used by scientists to study spatial learning and memory in rodents.
The Brain Prize will be presented to the three neuroscientists by Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark at a ceremony July 1 in Copenhagen.