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Memory work honoured with the world's largest prize for brain research

1 Mar 2016

Three British neuroscientists have today won the world’s most valuable prize for brain research for their outstanding work on the mechanisms of memory. This year’s winners of The Brain Prize - Tim Bliss, Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris - have all received funding from the Medical Research Council during their careers.

The Brain Prize, awarded by the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation in Denmark is worth one million Euros. Awarded annually, it recognises one or more scientists who have distinguished themselves by an outstanding contribution to neuroscience. 

The award testifies to the strong and sustained support that the UK funding bodies, including the Medical Research Council, have given to their research over the past three decades.

The research by Professors Bliss, Collingridge and Morris has focused on a brain mechanism known as ‘Long-Term Potentiation’ (LTP) which underpins the life-long plasticity of the brain.  Their discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of how memories are formed, retained and lost.

The three neuroscientists have independently and collectively shown how the connections – the synapses - between brain cells in the hippocampus (a structure vital for the formation of new memories) can be strengthened through repeated stimulation. LTP is so-called because it can persist indefinitely. Their work has revealed some of the basic mechanisms behind the phenomenon and has shown that LTP is the basis for our ability to learn and remember.

Sir Colin Blakemore, chairman of the selection committee said, “Memory is at the heart of human experience. This year’s winners, through their ground-breaking research, have transformed our understanding of memory and learning, and the devastating effects of failing memory.”

Without the capacity to store information in our brains, we could not remember our past and would be incapable of planning our future. Without memory, we could not recognise other people, find our way around in the world or make decisions based on past evidence. We could not learn language, ride a bicycle, drive a car, or use a smart phone.  There could be no education, no literature or art.

Responding to the news of the award, Tim Bliss, visiting worker at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said, “I am of course delighted to be awarded a share of this prestigious prize.  Research into LTP has been a wonderfully stimulating field to work in.  Experimentally it can be studied at so many levels, from the molecular machinery that underpins it to the behaviours that depend on it.  And from the beginning it has held up the promise of explaining the neural basis of memory.”

Richard Morris, professor of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, said, “I am naturally honoured to receive a share of this prize.  All of us have had the good fortune to run laboratory teams, including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. We acknowledge our debt to them and hope that the award of this prize recognizes the fundamental importance of their contributions.  While much of the work we have done on LTP has been driven by our curiosity about how the brain stores memories, it is inevitable that knowledge of basic mechanisms will lead to approaches for alleviating the pathologies of memory that are becoming increasingly prominent in our ageing society.”

Graham Collingridge, professor of neuroscience in anatomy at the University of Bristol, chair of the department of physiology at the University of Toronto and senior investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Canada, said, “I am delighted to share this award.  Working on the cellular mechanisms of learning and memory has been both richly challenging and intensely rewarding for me. I am really excited about now translating discoveries about LTP into new treatments for dementia”.

Categories

  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Neurological
  • Strategic objectives: Mental health and wellbeing, Securing impact from medical research
  • Locations: Bristol, Edinburgh, London
  • Type: News article, Success story