30 Years of The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience

McKnight Neuroscience Endowment board president Huda Zoghbi in her lab with post-doc fellow Jing Han.

 


The following blog post was contributed by guest author Huda Zoghbi, board president of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience.


 

This week, over 120 neuroscientists from around the country will arrive in Minneapolis to celebrate 30 years of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. As president of the Endowment Fund board, I am honored to be a part of the celebration and to serve on the board. The celebration is timed to coincide with the Endowment Fund’s annual conference.

McKnight’s oldest research program

McKnight neuroscientist sam Barondes

McKnight neuroscientist Sam Barondes.

Forty years ago, the McKnight family asked a group of eminent neuroscientists to help them create a brain research program. Since the first neuroscience grants were made in 1977, the Foundation has funded over 450 neuroscientists and contributed nearly $70 million to brain research. That original advisory group encouraged the Foundation board to include an invitation-only conference as part of any neuroscience program. A member of that group, Sam Barondes, will speak at the upcoming Minneapolis conference. It’s especially meaningful that Sam is speaking this year as he was one of the speakers at the first McKnight Neuroscience conference, held in 1980 at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Wayzata, MN.

A meeting of the minds

Richard Axel at the Nobel acceptance ceremony

Dr. Richard Axel at the 2004 Nobel ceremony.

This year is our 27th conference. Over the years, more than 1,000 neuroscientists have attended the conference and more than 400 presentations have been delivered. Speakers have included Nobel Laureates Eric Kandel, Rod MacKinnon, Linda Buck, and Fred Plum. This year’s Friday keynote speaker is Nobel Laureate Richard Axel. Dr. Axel shares the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with McKnight awardee Linda Buck; they received the award “for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system.” A translation: for figuring out how our sense of smell works!

Among the varied topics that will be covered this weekend, one highlight will be a brain disease workshop featuring the best Alzheimer’s researchers in the country. I have the distinct pleasure of chairing this session, which will include talks by Dr. David Holtzman, Dr. Joachim Herz, and Dr. Lennart Mucke, three distinguished neuroscientist/clinicians who have helped us understand some of the mechanisms driving neuronal and memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.

There will be a session highlighting the up and coming stars of neuroscience and a poster session, a relatively new addition to our conference. Other sessions highlight current and former McKnight awardees and the newest brain technologies. We are thrilled to have Lubert Stryer, the creator of our Technology awards, speaking during the Tech session.

Sharing ideas, making connections

A presentation at last year's conference.

A presentation at a previous conference.

All of the neuroscientists affiliated with The McKnight Foundation are extremely grateful for the Foundation’s long-standing commitment to supporting brain research. Most awardees indicate that equal to the funding is the opportunity to attend the conference and interact with the other awardees. Many collaborations among McKnight neuroscientists have formed at the McKnight conference. As the Foundation’s strategic framework suggests, this is a great example of “employing an integrative approach to linking people, place, and possibility.”

 

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Huda Zoghbi (EFN Board president) received the 2011 Neuroscience Prize of The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation for her pioneering work in unlocking genetic and molecular mysteries behind a number of devastating neurological disorders. This month Zoghbi received the Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal from the National Academies of Science for her pioneering contributions to the fields of neurodegenerative proteinopathies, autism spectrum disorders, epigenetics, and developmental biology by coupling clinical observation and gene discovery with focused, in-depth mechanistic study.

 

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