2012 Recipient Chosen for International Prize for Biology
On 7 September, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. Takashi Sugimura, vice president, the Japan Academy) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, decided to present the 28th (2012) International Prize for Biology to Dr. Joseph Altman, who is a Professor Emeritus at Purdue University, USA.
The field of specialization for the 28th Prize is "Neurobiology." Dr. Altman proved that neurons continue to be generated in certain areas of the adult mammalian brain. In particular, he discovered persistent neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a center for spatial perception, memory and learning, and he predicted that this was involved in the regulation of brain functions. Dr. Altman's discoveries were reaffirmed 30 years later and are considered to have laid the foundations for the now rapidly developing research fields of adult neurogenesis and its clinical applications.
Until the second half of the 20th century, it was believed that there were no neuron generating stem cells in the adult mammalian brain, and that, once constructed, neural circuits could not be repaired after injury. In the 1960s Dr. Altman showed clearly, by labeling dividing cells with radioactive tracers and performing meticulous anatomical analyses, that neural progenitor cells capable of dividing did exist in the brains of adult rats and that neurogenesis persisted in some regions, including the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the lateral ventricles. Further, he investigated the effects of ablating newborn neurons by X-irradiation, thereby demonstrating their importance in the expression of higher brain functions such as learning. For many years the significance of these revolutionary findings was not fully appreciated, but in the 1990s the phenomenon of adult neurogenesis was rediscovered in many mammals, including humans, and the validity of Dr. Altman's research became clear. He has published many superb books, including atlases of brain development.
Today, the study of adult neurogenesis is seeing explosive growth, and topics such as its relationship with neuropsychiatric disorders and its physiological significance in the expression of higher brain functions are popular research subjects. Clinical applications are also anticipated in the area of regenerative therapy for brain damage and disease. Dr. Altman's distinguished work has created a field of neuroscience and contributed greatly to its advancement.
The award ceremony was held on 26 November at the Japan Academy. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress attended the ceremony and a party held in honor of the award recipient.
To commemorate the award to Dr. Altman, the 28th International Prize for Biology Commemorative Symposium on Neurobiology was held on 28 and 29 November in Kobe.
- General Affairs Division