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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis scientists receive Canada Gairdner Award

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: News

On the heels of Dr. Michael Rosbash’s latest appointment as the Peter Gruber Chair of Neuroscience, he and Brandeis Professor Emeritus Jeffrey C. Hall have been awarded the Canada Gairdner Award for their discoveries involving the biological clock and its effects on the circadian rhythm, according to an announcement from President Fred Lawrence this week.

Rosbash was recently appointed the first Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience, established through a gift from the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation last week. He is the director of the Brandeis National Center for Behavioral Genomics. He and Hall were awarded the Canada Gairdner Award as “medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life,” for their work involving the circadian rhythm of fruit flies, according to a BrandeisNOW release. They share the award with a Rockefeller University researcher, Professor Michael C. Young.

The Canada Gairdner Award was established in 1959 in Toronto, Canada, to recognize accomplishments of biomedical researchers. It is often a precursor to a Nobel Prize—nearly a third of the scientists awarded the Canada Gairdner Award subsequently won a Nobel. According to Rosbash, it helps the scientific community communicate their discoveries effectively with the public.

Rosbash, Hall and Young’s own discoveries have the potential practically to improve the quality of life of many people. Their research revealed the relatively small group of genes responsible for the daily patterns, beginning with the individual cells. Tiny mutations of the genes can change the way the clocks shift the behavior and physiology of organisms. It is, according to the Gairdner Foundation, the first inroad that scientists had to understanding the “biological machine” that controls certain aspects of human behavior. The foundation lauded the 20-year work of the Rosbash and Hall labs at Brandeis and their impact on the scientific community.

The discovery has the potential to create more effective sleep-aid drugs as well as cures for jet lag and methods to “combat certain forms of depression,” according to the Gairdner foundation, especially those based on seasons and other biological cycles. The circadian rhythm is involved not only with sleep. Organs like the brain, lungs and heart use it to control their own, different rhythms.

“Michael and his colleagues discovered the genetic basis for biological rhythms fundamental to life because they control when we sleep and are wakeful,” Provost Steve Goldstein told BrandeisNOW, “how we absorb food and expend energy and how well we resist disease. His work shows how basic science can both explain and improve the human experience.”

Michael Rosbash is also a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and a member of the National Academy of Science, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Hall is also a member of both the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the 2003 recipient of the Genetics Society of America Medal.

In 2011, the three researchers were awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University and two years prior to that, the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation awarded them its Neuroscience Prize.