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UTHealth neuroscientist wins prominent NIH Director's Pioneer Award
Date:8/31/2010

Valentin Dragoi, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), is one of 17 researchers to win a 2010 National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award. The award supports scientists who propose revolutionary, high-impact approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.

Dragoi, who is proposing a new way to study how the brain processes information, will receive a total award of approximately $3.5 million over the next five years. "To have been selected for this award is fantastic news for me. The Pioneer competition was extremely intense," Dragoi said.

The 2010 Pioneer Awardees will be introduced at the Sixth Annual NIH Director's Pioneer Award Symposium in Bethesda, Md., Sept. 30 Oct. 1.

"Scientists are trying to understand the fundamental way in which the brain operates," said John Byrne, Ph.D., holder of the June and Virgil Waggoner Chair and chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the UTHealth Medical School. "There are many diseases of the brain. In many cases, we do not know what causes them."

Learning more about the causes of Alzheimer's disease, depression and other brain diseases could aid in the development of treatments, Byrne said. "If your car sputters and you don't know how it works, it is hard to fix," he said.

While some people think of the brain as a computer, it is more like a complex network of computers. "Neuroscientists know how individual neurons (nerve cells) work. The big challenge is understanding how the neurons work together," Dragoi said. The brain contains more than 100 billion neurons, each linked to as many as 10,000 other neurons.

Much of Dragoi's research is focused on how neural networks process information to influence behavior. "Nerve cells may form a network to process one piece of sensory information. Another combination of these cells
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Contact: Robert Cahill
Robert.Cahill@uth.tmc.edu
713-500-3030
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
Source:Eurekalert  

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