SEATTLE, Aug. 21, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The Allen Institute for Brain Science welcomes renowned neuroscientist Stephen J Smith, Ph.D., as a Senior Investigator. At the Allen Institute, Smith will build on his years of expertise in studying the brain to better understand the mechanisms behind neural computation in the human cortex.
"We are very fortunate to have Stephen Smith join our team at the Allen Institute," says Allan Jones, the Allen Institute's chief executive officer. "Stephen brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in asking important questions about how the human brain works, making him an invaluable voice as we move forward in our scientific mission."
Smith's recent research focus has been on understanding the diverse ways in which different types of neurons signal one another at synapses, and how the rich diversity of those synaptic connections contribute to the brain's remarkable information processing capacities. Advances in understanding "synaptomes"— systematic compilations of diverse synapse functional and molecular characteristics—will build directly on the existing Cell Types and Connectivity programs at the Allen Institute, which aim to create comprehensive catalogs of all the types of neurons and synaptic connections in the human cortex.
"At the Allen Institute, I look forward to participating in a concerted effort to understand what makes us human," Smith explains. "The Allen Institute is launching highly innovative programs of unprecedented scale to advance the direct and quantitative study of the human brain's synaptic circuitry. I am thrilled by this opportunity to contribute tools I've developed over the years to this exciting new kind of neuroscience."
Smith comes to the Allen Institute from the Stanford University School of Medicine, where he held a professorship in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology. Previously, he was on the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine, supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He pioneered methods for the measurement and modeling of intracellular calcium signals and for digital optical imaging of living neurons and neural circuits. Key discoveries resulting from his work include calcium signaling by NMDA receptors, the existence of astrocytic calcium waves, and the active roles of dendritic filopodia in initiating synapse formation. Each of these discoveries opened broad new fields of investigation, and the NMDA calcium signal is now recognized as the fundamental trigger to most known forms of synaptic memory storage and neural plasticity.
About the Allen Institute for Brain Science
The Allen Institute for Brain Science (www.alleninstitute.org) is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to accelerating the understanding of how the human brain works in health and disease. Using a big science approach, the Allen Institute generates useful public resources used by researchers and organizations around the globe, drives technological and analytical advances, and discovers fundamental brain properties through integration of experiments, modeling and theory. Launched in 2003 with a seed contribution from founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, the Allen Institute is supported by a diversity of government, foundation and private funds to enable its projects. Given the Institute's achievements, Mr. Allen committed an additional $300 million in 2012 for the first four years of a ten-year plan to further propel and expand the Institute's scientific programs, bringing his total commitment to date to $500 million. The Allen Institute's data and tools are publicly available online at www.brain-map.org.
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