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Harvard Professors Win Lifetime Achievement Award in Neuroscience

Harvard Medical School.
Harvard Medical School. By Krystal K. Phu
By Elizabeth H. Gellert and Julia A. Kendall, Contributing Writers

The Society for Neuroscience jointly awarded its Ralph W. Gerard Prize — a lifetime achievement award recognizing groundbreaking research in neuroscience — to Harvard Molecular and Cellular Biology professor Catherine Dulac and Medical School professor Michael E. Greenberg on Sunday.

Dulac and Greenberg have independently researched how mechanisms in the brain influence social behavior and developmental disorders.

The Society for Neuroscience awards the Gerard Prize — their most prestigious honor — to researchers annually.

The professors received the award in Chicago at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual conference, which draws more than 30,000 attendees each year. The award comes with $25,000 in prize money for the two to share.

Dulac and Greenberg have never collaborated in their research, though they both work at Harvard. Greenberg said Dulac’s research has been an inspiration for him.

“I’ve been inspired by her work. It’s foundational,” he said. “It’s exciting and exceptionally creative, so it’s wonderful to be able to share an award with a colleague like that.”

Dulac also said she highly regards Greenberg as a fellow researcher.

“It is also very special to be recognized with my colleague Michael Greenberg, who I highly admire,” she said.

Dulac’s research focuses on how the brain manages social interaction. She studies the neuroscience behind how animals interact with other animals of the same species. She said she wants to explore the integration of various technologies with neuroscience in the future and to develop a deeper understanding of animal behavior.

“To have a global theoretical understanding of particular behavior — that, I think, is the goal for the next few, or many, years,” Dulac said.

Josephine J. Wolf ’20, who works in Dulac’s lab, said she highly values Dulac’s research methods.

“The lab takes on very important questions within social behavior research, and professor Dulac approaches these questions using clever and novel experiments,” Wolf said.

Greenberg’s research focuses on the mechanisms that regulate gene expression and understanding how life experiences influence neuron activity. He said his work is particularly relevant to the study of developmental disorders like epilepsy and autism.

“That’s what we’re in search of — trying to understand how sensory experience through gene transcription activates changes in the brain that underlie learning, memory, and behavior,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said his work was a group effort, citing the help of numerous students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff that have worked with him.

Marty G. Yang, an M.D.-Ph.D. student who works in Greenberg’s lab, said the award reflects both the quality of Greenberg’s research and his to mentorship.

“Lab members — both past and present — were thrilled to hear the great news from SFN. I think this award is not only a testament to [Greenberg’s] scientific accomplishments, but also a reflection of his generous mentorship throughout his career,” Yang said.

Previous winners of the Gerard Award include several Nobel laureates. Julius Axelrod, Bernard Katz, and Eric R. Kandel ’52 each won the Gerard Award and the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

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Sciences DivisionHarvard Medical SchoolNeurobiology