Ground-breaking research into memory honoured with the worlds largest brain research prize – University of Copenhagen

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02 March 2016

Ground-breaking research into memory honoured with the worlds largest brain research prize

THE BRAIN PRIZE 2016

Three leading British scientists are being awarded Denmark's answer to the Nobel Prize - The Brain Prize. These scientists have provided us with vital insight into the way in which the human brain remembers, learns and navigates.

Deep in the centre of the brain we find the hippocampus, made up of two small areas shaped like seahorses. The hippocampus is the brain’s learning portal; the part of the brain that enables us to store information.  Three British brain researchers have shown how neurons in the hippocampus collaborate and provided us with a basis for understanding how we humans go about remembering. For this research, they are now being awarded the world’s largest brain research prize, the 1 million euro Brain Prize.

  The organisation behind the Brain Prize is the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation. The chairman of the Foundation’s Selection Committee, Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, explains the reasons for the award: “Together, the three scientists have revealed how the brain can alter through experience, enabling us to acquire new information and adapt to our surroundings. These scientists have also provided us with better tools for understanding serious diseases such as depression, epilepsy and drug addiction. An achievement of this kind deserves recognition.”

Synapses can be strengthened

The three brain researchers, Timothy Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris, have independently and collectively shown how the connection between brain cells in the hippocampus, so-called synapses, can be strengthened through repeated stimulation. This phenomenon is called long-term potentiation, since it takes several hours or days. The researchers have described the mechanisms behind the phenomenon and have proven that long-term potentiation is the very basis for our ability to learn, remember and navigate our surroundings.

The brain is not static

Danish brain researchers are thrilled about this year’s award: Professor Jakob Balslev Sørensen of the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology at the University of Copenhagen says:
“The three prize winners have made the crucial discovery that it’s the small points of contact between the neurons - the synapses - that alter in character and that these changes may be permanent and, consequently, may alter the function of the brain in the long term. The phenomenon of long-term potentiation has attracted much attention in research circles, so this year’s award provides all brain researchers with an opportunity to stop and appreciate how far we’ve actually come.”
The scientists’ results show that the brain is not static but plastic, which means that the brain is able to handle and adapt to new impressions and events. This plasticity enables the brain to reorganise itself after damage such as stroke or sudden blindness.