Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Adam Kepecs, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), has been selected as a John Merck Scholar for 2010. The announcement was made by the John Merck Fund, which administers the awards program.
The John Merck Scholars Program in the Biology of Developmental Disabilities in Children, founded in 1990, supports research into the underlying neurobiology of developmental disabilities and associated cognitive impairments. It seeks in particular to encourage the work of gifted young scientists, three of whom are annually selected from a national pool of candidates by a panel of eminent scientists.
Kepecs, an assistant professor at CSHL, will receive a four-year research grant of $300,000. The first year’s award will specifically support research involving functional dissection of the central cholinergic system in cognition. This work will include the development and adaptation of new technologies to monitor and control the cholinergic system—parts of the nervous system that use the neurotransmitter acetylcholine—in order to understand its role in learning and attention.
“In the future, this research will enable us to track down how developmental disruptions due to environmental causes, such as pesticides, and genetic causes, such as autism, impair the cholinergic system and lead to disorders of cognition,” Dr. Kepecs says.
Work in the Kepecs lab at CSHL is currently centered around two themes. One is neurocomputational principles of decision-making: Kepecs and colleagues seek to go beyond the sensory and motor processes to capture more elusive attributes such as emotion, motivation or confidence. The other theme is neuronal network mechanisms underlying decisions: the team seeks to understand how specific cell types participate in the neural circuit dynamics of local processing, and how different brain regions with specialized functions coordinate their activity.
Since its inception, the John Merck Fund has supported initiatives on behalf of an underserved, largely unrecognized population: children who are both mentally disabled and emotionally disturbed. One of founder Serena S. Merck’s legacies is The Fund’s bedrock commitment to help these children lead productive lives and to alleviate the hardship and anguish experienced by their parents. The Fund was founded in 1970, and named for Mrs. Merck’s son.
Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,100 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program annually hosts more than 12,000 scientists. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and the DNA Learning Center with programs for middle and high school students and teachers. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu