Thomas Jessell Receives 2012 Gairdner Foundation Award

Thomas M. Jessell, Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University

(Combined news stories)

March 21, 2012

The Gairdner Foundation announced today that Thomas M. Jessell -- Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator -- is a recipient of the prestigious 2012 Canada Gairdner International Awards in recognition of his contributions to medical science.

Thomas M. Jessell, Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University
Thomas M. Jessell, Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University

The awards, which are presented annually, recognize scientists responsible for some of the world’s most significant medical discoveries. According to his citation, Jessell received his award "for research in defining the genetic and molecular pathways leading to the complex development of the spinal cord, with implications for therapeutic applications."

The Gairdner Foundation noted that through communication between the sensory neuron and the motor neuron in our bodies’ nervous system, a person acquires the ability to move and react to the world. However, little was known about how these neurons communicate with each other. Jessell was recognized for work that reveals the basic principles of nervous system communication. By studying the assembly and organization of the circuit that controls movement in the spinal cord nervous system, Jessell identified the direct connection between the sensory neuron, which is responsible for allowing us to process what is happening in the world around us, and the motor neuron, which allows us to control how our muscles move to react to what we sense in that world. As a result of this discovery, we have the potential to create interventional strategies to treat and cure neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), where a problem with the circuit connection between the sensory neuron and the motor neuron prevents our minds and bodies from reacting properly to what we sense around us. Similarly, we now have the potential to restore movement in patients with spinal cord injury or paralysis.

The Gairdner Foundation was created in 1957 by James Arthur Gairdner to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. Its core mandate is to select the annual Canada Gairdner International Awardees, which are recommended by a Medical Review Panel composed of leading mid-career scientists from across Canada, reviews all nominations, then selected by a Medical Advisory Board composed of 20 senior scientists from across Canada and around the world. The Gairdner Foundation is dedicated to increasing awareness of the value of health research, sharing the vision of excellence represented by the winners, and building the culture of science in Canada

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