Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

U-M’s Robert T. Kennedy receives neuroscience technology award

U-M analytical chemist Robert T. Kennedy is one of four scientists selected to receive the 2010 Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Award from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience.

Kennedy, who is the Hobart H. Willard Professor of Chemistry and a professor of pharmacology, will receive $200,000 over two years to develop new methods for measure chemical signals in the brain. In the brain, as elsewhere in the body, nerve cells communicate by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Kennedy wants to measure these signals to better understand how nerve cells interact to control brain functions and behavior.

Measuring neurotransmitters in living organisms with the necessary precision requires probes small enough to reach into many areas of the brain, and existing probes have been too large, especially for the brain of the mouse, which serves as a model for many human diseases. Kennedy’s lab is developing and testing a miniaturized probe that can generate small samples for analysis at frequent intervals.

“We are excited by this additional funding to support our work in fundamental neuroscience.  This funding will allow us to use highly advanced microfabrication procedures to develop new probes and explore some novel approaches to generating the chemical readouts necessary,” Kennedy says.

Other scientists receiving this year’s award are Michael Berry II of Princeton University, Timothy Ryan of Weill Cornell Medical College and W. Daniel Tracey of Duke University Medical Center.

"As innovative technologies facilitate more precise research, we are learning more about the intricate workings of the brain and nervous system," says David Tank, the Henry Hillman professor of molecular biology and physics at Princeton University and chair of the awards committee. "These four awards will help develop important tools to expand our understanding of neural circuits important in neurological and psychiatric diseases."

The awards have been given annually since 1999 to advance the range of technologies available for studying the brain and the diseases that affect it. Recipients must be working on novel and unusual approaches, not research based primarily on existing techniques. Technologies developed through McKnight support ultimately must be made available to other scientists.

The endowment fund is administered by the McKnight Foundation, a Minneapolis-based family foundation that seeks to improve quality of life through grant making, coalition building and encouragement of strategic policy reform.