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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University
3003 N. Charles Street, Suite 100
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-3843
Phone: (410) 516-7160
Fax (410) 516-5251

May 19, 2003
(410) 516-7160, mcp@jhu.edu, or
Rebecca Taylor
Bristol-Myers Squibb
(609) 252-4479, rebecca.taylor@bms.com

Brain Researcher Receives $500k
Bristol-Myers Squibb Grant

The Johns Hopkins University has received a five-year $500,000 unrestricted neuroscience research grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. to support research into aging's effects on the brain and into various aspects of learning, memory and emotion. Michela Gallagher, professor of psychological and brain sciences, will supervise and serve as principal investigator of the grant.

"In awarding this unrestricted grant to Gallagher, we are recognizing her very significant scientific accomplishments and her multifaceted approach to exploring the mechanisms underlying learning and memory," said Frank D. Yocca, executive director, Neuroscience Clinical Design & Evaluation of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Yocca will present the first $100,000 installment of the five-year grant to Gallagher on May 22, 2003 in Baltimore. Guests will include The Johns Hopkins University leadership and faculty, and staff of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

"This award is a real honor," said Gallagher, who chairs the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. "Unrestricted funds of this type are rare and different from more conventional research grants. The support can be used to explore a new idea where the outcome is uncertain but the potential to a new path of discovery is high."

Michela Gallagher is widely recognized as one of the leaders of a reversal in the mid-1990s of a commonly held belief about the aging brain. Prior to that point, scientists had been convinced by a variety of factors that even healthy aging brains suffered a widespread die-off of significant numbers of brain cells. The most prominent of these factors, which emerged as average lifespan increased significantly during the last century, was an increase in the number of the elderly afflicted by memory problems even in the absence of discernible pathological conditions.

Using a model of aging's effects on the brain that she developed in rats, Gallagher was able to show that non-pathological cognitive declines were not linked to significant loss of brain cells. Further study in the rat model, still ongoing today, has instead revealed age-related problems in several of the biochemical mechanisms nerve cells use to communicate with each other.

"This is terrific, because if neurodegeneration is not a primary cause of the impairment that we see in the elderly, and if we don't have to find ways to replace missing nerve cells [through] nerve cell transplants and so forth, then the challenge of maximizing the potential of the elderly suddenly becomes much more tractable," Gallagher has previously noted.

Another line of Gallagher's research has shown that specific circuits and neurochemical systems in the brain underlie emotional learning and affective processes that guide what are known to psychologists as goal-directed actions.

A self-professed "integrative neuroscientist" (in a way, a "jack-of-all-trades" for the neurosciences), Gallagher is active both in the department and in her field in promoting multi-disciplinary approaches to the many complex problems scientists must confront in trying to understand the brain. She helped establish and is co-director of the Center for Neurogenetics and Behavior at Johns Hopkins, a center dedicated to bringing together cognitive scientists like herself who are experienced in behavioral research and scientists who study basic molecular mechanisms in the brain via transgenic animals.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants Program offers the world's premier research institutions the opportunity to pursue new clinical and laboratory findings, support promising young scientists, or acquire new laboratory technology - with no strings attached. The unrestricted nature of the grants allows institutions to put the support where it is most needed and gives scientists the freedom to pursue uncharted paths.

The unrestricted neuroscience grants program is one of six such programs that support research in the fields of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, neuroscience and nutrition. Through the Bristol-Myers Squibb Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants Program initiated 26 years ago, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation has committed over $100 million in support of 240 grants to 150 institutions in 22 countries worldwide.

Each of the six Unrestricted Biomedical Research Grants Programs also consists of an annual award for distinguished achievement to an individual researcher. As principal investigator of an unrestricted neuroscience research grant, Gallagher is a member of an independent selection committee that selects the winner of the annual $50,000 Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is a global pharmaceutical and related health care products company whose mission is to extend and enhance human life.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb

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