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Salk scientist earns Whitehall Foundation grant

Axel Nimmerjahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has been awarded a grant from the Whitehall Foundation.

Nimmerjahn, also a holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair in Biophotonics, will receive $223,000.00 over three years to study the contribution of astrocytes to normal brain function.

Astrocytes, named for their characteristic "star shape", have been traditionally considered members of the support crew, known as glia, which nourishes and protects neurons in the brain. More recently, they have emerged as sophisticated cellular players that are actively involved in regulating neural circuit development and function.

"This grant will help support research to determine whether and how astrocytes in awake animals regulate neural dynamics and perhaps behavior," said Nimmerjahn. "Resolving this question is of significant importance that will increase our comprehension of the complex cellular processes underlying normal brain function and behavior."

A better understanding of astrocytes' role in the brain could lead to the development of new treatments for neurological disorders, many of which may result from, or are exacerbated by, defective or disordered glial function such as epilepsy or migraine.

Nimmerjahn has created and continues to develop tools that allow researchers to directly visualize and manipulate glia in the intact healthy and diseased brain. This has led to key insights in glial cell biology, with broad implications for our view of brain function, which may eventually lead to novel treatments for neurodegenerative brain disease.

Prior to joining the Salk Institute, Nimmerjahn earned a doctorate in physics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research/University of Heidelberg in Germany and completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in Biology and Applied Physics at Stanford University in California.

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