Anatomy and Neurobiology Expert Named Pew Biomedical Scholar

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Max Fletcher, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the UTHSC has been named among the 2011 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Max Fletcher, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been named among the 2011 Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts. He is one of 22 of America”s most promising scientists to receive the prestigious designation, which includes a research grant for $240,000 distributed over a four-year period. As a Pew Scholar, Dr. Fletcher gains inclusion into a select group of scientists that includes three Nobel Prize winners, three MacArthur Fellows and two recipients of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award. The Pew Scholars program supports early-career scientists who conduct research leading to important medical breakthroughs and treatments. Research by the new class of scholars is related to human diseases ranging from Alzheimer”s to ocular degeneration.

“Early recognition of young scientists with ideas that challenge their fields is essential for the vitality of the biomedical sciences,” said Craig C. Mello, PhD, 1995 Pew Scholar, 2006 Nobel Laureate and chair of the national advisory committee for the Pew Scholars program. “From my experience as a Pew Scholar and member of the advisory board, this program gives these experts the confidence to pursue risky projects and to push the boundaries of their fields, preparing for major scientific advancements. I welcome these promising scientists into the Pew Biomedical Scholars family and look forward to witnessing their research unfold in the years ahead.”

Dr. Fletcher”s research will examine the olfactory bulb, the first central olfactory structure in the brain. Within the bulb, odors that we smell are converted into spatial patterns of neuronal activity, providing information about the quality or identity of the odor. Using transgenic mice that express a fluorescent protein that lights up when neurons are activated, scientists can see these patterns and study how learning and attention affect the way sensory information is represented in the brain. By observing certain patterns before, during, and after learning, the scientists will review how learning an odor can alter the way the olfactory bulb responds to that odor. Understanding the neuronal mechanisms behind long-term changes in learning patterns provides a useful model for investigating how neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer”s, have an impact on sensory perception, learning and memory.

“We were fortunate to have recruited Max last year,” said Matthew Ennis, PhD, Simon R. Bruesch Professor and chair of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. “This award is indicative of the creativity, innovation and advanced approach of his research and we are proud of his accomplishments, as well as the national visibility this award brings to neuroscience research at UTHSC,” he added.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today”s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. They partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society. For more information, visit www.pewtrusts.org.