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UC Berkeley's Corey Goodman, whose work has changed the understanding of how the brain is wired, wins March of Dimes Prize
27 April 2001

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations
and Michele Kling, March of Dimes

Berkeley - Neuroscientist Corey S. Goodman, professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named co-recipient of this year's March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

Goodman and co-winner Thomas M. Jessell, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University in New York, will receive the award Monday, April 30, at a black-tie dinner and ceremony at the Harbor Court Hotel in Baltimore, Md.

The prize is a cash award of $100,000, to be shared equally, and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology is awarded annually to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies our understanding of birth defects. The prize was created as a tribute to Jonas Salk, shortly before his death in 1995.

The two winners, both investigators in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have helped revolutionize the understanding of brain wiring and how it goes awry in birth defects and adult diseases.

"These two imaginative scientists have helped to shape the present and future directions of an entire field of neural research," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.

"The result is that we now have opportunities to develop new types of gene-based drugs or other therapies for neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, and neurological disease such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neuron diseases. This includes the possibility that, some day, patients with these disorders or with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries may be treated by regrowing the right type of central nervous system cells and by coaxing their damaged cells into regrowing the right types of connections."

Goodman has used fruitflies to investigate how the growing tips of nerve cells find their proper targets and create the appropriate synapses with these cells. In the past 20 years, he has found numerous genes that control this growth, acting like traffic cops to steer growing axons toward or away from specific areas. He has shown, too, that the genes and mechanisms that control brain wiring are nearly identical in all animal species, including humans.

Jessel studies embryonic nerve cells and glial cells in the central nervous systems of mice and other vertebrates, where he has helped discover key genes involved in the signals that determine the identity of neurons and the specificity of the connections neurons make with their targets.

Prior to the evening ceremony, Goodman and Jessel will deliver lectures at the Baltimore Convention Center during the 2001 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.