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Shining light of neuroscience
Dr. Ofer Yizhar awarded the 2018 Adelis Prize in Brain Research

The 2018 Adelis Prize for Brain Research for groundbreaking research by a young neuroscientist has been presented to Dr. Ofer Yizhar of the Weizmann Institute.

The Adelis Foundation — established by the late Mr. André Cohen Deloro to support academic excellence within Israel in general and within the realm of medical and scientific research in particular—inaugurated the Adelis Prize for Brain Research in 2015. The award, accompanied by a $100,000 grant, will support Dr. Yizhar’s groundbreaking research in optogenetics—a technology that renders individual, highly specific brain cells photosensitive and then activates those cells using flashes of light.

Dr. Yizhar, a member of the Department of Neurobiology, uses optogenetic techniques to examine the prefrontal cortex—a region of the brain that plays important roles in many higher order processes, including memory, emotional regulation, behavioral control, and social behavior. Problems in prefrontal function are associated with various psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The winner of the prize is chosen according to the following criteria: academic excellence, innovation, and proven past accomplishment. The judges—made up of senior figures in Israel’s scientific community—selected Dr. Yizhar’s proposal from among a large number of applicants. His proposal described a project in which optogenetic techniques will be used to elucidate the brain mechanisms that mediate the emotional and cognitive effects of loneliness.

In his previous work, Dr. Yizhar and his team showed how the exposure of specific brain cells to laser light can reduce the acquisition of traumatic memories in a mouse model, and can also promote “extinction learning”—a gradual decrase in the conditioned response to a fear-producing stimulus. These findings, which were published in Nature Neuroscience, may eventually contribute to rehabilitation strategies for humans suffering from PTSD. Dr. Yizhar’s optogenetic approach has also contributed to our understanding of the neural circuitry involved in the aberrant social behavior characteristic of individuals with autism.

Dr. Ofer Yizhar is supported by the Ilse Katz Institute for Material Sciences and Magnetic Resonance Research, the Adelis Foundation, Irwin Green Alzheimer’s Research Fund, the Candice Appleton Family Trust, Paul and Lucie Schwartz, and the Georges and Vera Gersen Laboratory. Dr. Yizhar is the incumbent of the Gertrude and Philip Nollman Career Development Chair.

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