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Ann Graybiel honored for Parkinson's work

Ann Graybiel
Ann Graybiel

Ann Graybiel, the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and a principal investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, has a new professorship to her name, external to MIT, in recognition of her important contributions to the understanding and treatment of Parkinson's disease.

The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) earlier this year awarded her the first Harold S. Diamond Professorship, created through a donation from New York real-estate executive Lynn Diamond and named for Diamond's late father. The appointment comes with a grant of $150,000 per year for three years.

In 2004, Graybiel received the Woman Leader of Parkinson's Science award from the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, another major agency dedicated to Parkinson's disease.

"I am humbled and incredibly honored to receive these awards," Graybiel said. "My hope is that our lab's work will help patients with Parkinson's disease." The NPF described Graybiel as "one of the world's leading experts on the basal ganglia, the complex and inaccessible parts of the brain affected in people suffering from PD and related conditions."

The basal ganglia not only influence movement, they also are critical brain centers involved in motivation. "It's a great puzzle," Graybiel said. "Somehow the same or related circuitry that gets damaged in Parkinson's disease is also involved in habit formation, addiction and procedural learning."

Graybiel's group is using experimental models of Parkinson's, addiction and habit learning to study how animals learn to perform familiar tasks and how their neuronal circuits respond to drugs that affect the dopamine system. Two postdoctoral lab members, Ken-ichi Amemori and Mark Ruffo, will be appointed Selma Diamond and Lynn Diamond research fellows.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).

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