Quotes from the academic consultants’ comments
Shira Knafo's work focusea on molecular mechanisms and signaling processes underlying cognitive function. She determined that pharmacological coactivation of the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) and cell adhesion molecule produces long-lasting changes in synaptic function, and identified the underlying molecular mechanisms. In addition, she investigated potential therapeutic avenues for the synaptic and cognitive dysfunctions associated with Alzheimer’s disease and found that upregulation of the PIP3 pathway (phosphatidyl-inositol-tris-phosphate) using pharmacological or genetic tools prevents synaptic depression and rescues synaptic plasticity deficits produced by disease.
Adrian Israelson has shown that a misfolded portion of ALS-causing mutations in SOD1 bind directly to voltage dependent anion channel VDAC1 at the cytoplasmic face of spinal cord mitochondria, thereby inhibiting its conductance of nucleotides. This is a field leading contribution into how mitochondria are directly damaged by SOD1 mutants, thereby identifying a key aspect of the mechanism of selective motor neuron killing in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and potentially identifying targets for therapy.
Izhak Michaelevski applies proteomics, transcriptomics and computational analysis tools to characterize cognitive pathways. He seeks to determine which proteins are the key regulators of signaling towards the nucleus; which genes are expressed in response to these signaling; which proteins are synthesized locally in dendrites and synapses, and which in the cell bodies and delivered to synapses; how does cellular transport affect memory formation mechanisms and their kinetics, and how are these molecular alterations expressed on electrophysiological-functional and behavioural level.
Ami Citri’s work focuses on drug addiction, a powerful model for analysis of molecular networks underlying experience-dependent plasticity. He developed a modular genetic strategy for identification and manipulation of a cocaine-responsive neuronal ensemble. Using this system, he found that the activity of this small group of neurons is essential for the development of behavioral sensitization to cocaine. He also found evidence for novel roles of the immune system in maintaining the long-term memory of drug experience following chronic cocaine exposure.
Dr Roi Cohen Kadosh is undoubtedly one of the young stars of cognitive neuroscience. His work has focused on the way in which the brain processes numerical information. One of Cohen Kadosh’s many contributions to this area have been to show, using sophisticated neuroscientific methods, how the brain makes or fails to make the right connections between cultural practices of mathematics (the form of number words and other forms of learned numerical symbolization) and innate cognitive capacities. One important and controversial theoretical claim that he makes, is that humans do not represent numbers abstractly, but only as tightly bound to specific formats such as digits, number words or patterns of objects.
In relation to dyscalculia, he has elegantly tested a theory of the critical role of the right hemisphere, again contrary to much conventional thinking, using transcranial magnetic stimulation. A second and connected major strand in his work is about synaesthesia, especially the relationship between number, space and colour. This is important research which has already led to theoretical advances and has the promise to yield practical benefits in helping people, especially those with the dyscalculic handicap, learn mathematics.
Dr Yaniv Assaf has, despite his relatively young age of 36 years, and the young status of his group, become one of the, if not the world’s leading exponents of the q-space imaging methodology as applied to neuroscience.
Assaf was able to show that q-space-style analysis of data was possible in biological systems and this then led to the start of an extremely interesting set of developments which are his pi?ces de resistance ‘CHARMED’ and ‘AxCaliber’. What Assaf has managed to do, over the last 10 years or so, is to systematically improve the sensitivity and specificity of diffusion imaging to turn it almost into a ‘virtual histology’ tool. The implications of being able to home in on axon diameter distributions – and make more informed inferences on brain connectivity have massive implications for neuroscience – in studies of normal cognition, and studies of development, neurodegeneration, ageing and neurological / psychiatric disorders. His work stands apart from others in the field – as he is always at the ‘cutting edge’ of the development of diffusion MRI.
Dr. Eran Perlson has proposed a potential mechanism for cell death in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis involving retrograde axonal transport signalling. This is a logical extension of his observations involving axonal transport signalling systems which were truly fundamental for cell biology. Its application to the pathogenesis of ALS is unclear at the present but it is one of the few novel suggestions to arise for this disease in the past several years. Perlson is an original and creative young scientist. He is very competent, intellectually gifted and extremely talented experimenter. Eran is also a critical, analytical and sceptical thinker. He is very brave and motivated in attacking difficult scientific projects. This is reflected by the quality of his publications. He has demonstrated solid qualifications for experimental science complemented with a strong theoretical background in biophysics and neuroscience.
Dr. Amir Amedi has shown intellectual courage and technical ability and is clearly a scientist of outstanding talent and energy. The two main thrusts of his work are (1) that our beliefs about the organisation of sensory cortices are in need of a reassessment and he has published creative and insightful papers on this and (2) that sensory reorganisation can be used therapeutically. He also has a talent for presenting his work to the public. His work on cross modal perception is of the highest scientific quality and has generated a great deal of interest in the issue of sensory specificity.
To have made such achievements only 5 years after his PhD is outstanding even by the standards of Israeli neuroscience and if he were competing for a similar prize in the UK he would certainly be a contented and if he were to win the prize no one in the field would be surprised.
Dr. Alon Chen: In a series of ground breaking studies which were very recently published or are still under revision or consideration in high profile scientific journals, Chen and his research group demonstrated, using state-of-the-art and integrated multidisciplinary projects from gene to behaviour, novel and deeper insights into the central role of the CRF/Urocortin family of peptides and receptor in mediating different aspects of the central stress response. In a study which is currently under revision in Nature Neuroscience Chen and his research team demonstrated that resilience to social stress coincides with functional DNA methylation of the CRF gene in adult mice.
Dr. Chen is charismatic, coherent, curious, energetic and highly motivated. He is exceptionally creative and does not hesitate from getting into challenging projects and sophisticated techniques. I expect that within several years Chen will become a leader, on the international scale, in his area of research.
Dr. Abraham Zangen: The common interventions in neuropsychiatric diseases are through pharmacological manipulations. However, these are not directed to specific sites in the brain and, therefore, have frequent adverse effects. Recently, attempts have been made to stimulate brain areas directly, usually through indwelling electrodes. Zangen’s novel ideas are to manipulate brain activity by magnetic fields. Using special coils devised by him, he can either stimulate or inhibit target areas of the brain and in this way ameliorate abnormal activity in certain brain regions and stimulate others. This innovative approach has been used in an attempt to help patients with various diseases from depression and addiction to Parkinson’s disease and dementia, in each case targeting relevant brain areas. This promising approach has attracted considerable attention.
Dr. Inna Slutsky: She truly is thinking outside of the box, and has discovered facts that are of paradigmatic value to neuroscience and to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and memory disorders. The research community are shell-shocked since billions of dollars have been spent on the amyloid cascade hypothesis that posits that ?-amyloid is useless. Dr Slutsky was the first to show that ?-amyloid is necessary, and I predict that this fact will be a turning point in Alzheimer research.
Dr. Ofer Yizhar is an extremely bright, innovative scientist and will be a landscape-shifting group leader in any top scientific institute he chooses to join. In parallel with performing highly demanding experiments, Ofer has spent a significant amount of time this last year writing reviews for several high-tier journals, laying out the foundations of optogenetic technology and educating the scientific community. His knowledge and expertise in a broad range of biological fields places him today as one of the top experts in this multidisciplinary approach.
From the first moment I met Yossi Yovel, it was evident for me that he is at the beginning of a great career. His work displays high insight as well as experimental and theoretical skill. Yossi has already made highly important contributions in the field of echolocation and in all likelihood will continue to do so. He is an excellent and promising young scientist who deserves every support. His approach to use computational methods of data processing to understand the performance of brains is a major focus in neuroscience.
Nachum Ulanovsky’s experiments (with echolocating bats) have generated stunning results and revealed rapid plasticity of hippocampal activity that is tied to the timing of sonar vocalizations. He is an extraordinary scientist and leader in the field of neuroscience. He has the ability to identify critical problems and tackle them with creative and carefully designed experiments. His work has had a major impact on spatial memory research, and his papers have been highlighted as “must read,” by Faculty 1000.