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July 19, 2000

Princeton neuroscientist wins Keck young investigator award

Developer of "smart mouse" to broaden search for learning and memory genes

Princeton, N.J. -- Princeton neuroscientist Joe Tsien, whose creation last year of a "smart mouse" was hailed as a breakthrough in neuroscience, has received a young investigator award that provides major new funding for his research.

The W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles named Tsien one of five Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research. The award provides about $1 million in funding over five years.

Tsien's research focuses on understanding the genetics behind age-related changes in learning and memory. He believes this work could yield strategies for developing treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Tsien's work gained public and scientific attention last year when he and colleagues in his lab published a study showing how the addition of a single gene could boost learning and memory in mice.

In following up that study, Tsien has developed an ambitious research program to identify a much broader range of genes involved in learning and memory. Working with a technology called GeneChip, a combination of electronics and biology that allows him to monitor the activity of thousands of genes in the developing mouse brain, Tsien is mapping the genetic and molecular events that come together in allowing the brain to retain and revise information.

"What we learn and remember largely defines who we are," said Tsien. "Yet we are only beginning to understand the biological processes that give us this incredible ability. I am honored to have been chosen for this award because it will greatly accelerate our research into learning and memory and may one day provide hope for combating such devastating brain disorders as Alzheimer's disease."

The Keck Foundation awarded its first Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research awards in 1999. These awards are designed to support innovative research by young investigators who exhibit both extraordinary promise for independent basic medical research and a clear capacity for academic leadership.