Scientist shares £1.1m prize for pioneering brain research

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The world’s biggest neuroscience prize has been awarded to an Edinburgh scientist for his work to understand a rare neurological disorder.

Professor Sir Adrian Bird has been announced as joint winner of the Brain Prize – the most valuable research prize for neuroscience – in recognition of his ground-breaking research on Rett Syndrome.

He shares the prize of 10 million Danish krone – more than £1.1 million – with fellow scientist Huda Zoghbi for their work on the disease, which affects brain development, primarily among girls in early childhood. Symptoms include problems with coordination, language and repetitive movements.

Adrian Bird is Buchanan Professor of Genetics in the University’s School of Biological Sciences. Huda Zoghbi is a professor of genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, US.

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They received the prize for their insights in identifying the gene responsible for Rett syndrome, known as MECP2, and for showing how it regulates brain function.

MECP2 was discovered in 1992 by Professor Bird, and later shown by Professor Zoghbi to be the cause of the condition.

Their surprising discovery that some symptoms may be reversible has brought researchers closer to identifying a treatment for the disease and has helped reveal that other developmental disorders affecting the brain may also be treatable.

The Brain Prize is awarded annually by Denmark’s largest private funder of neuroscience research, the Lundbeck Foundation. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark will present the winners with the prize on 13 September in a ceremony at the Royal Danish Playhouse, Copenhagen.

It is the second time the Brain Prize – now in its tenth year – has been awarded to an Edinburgh scientist. In 2016 Professor Richard Morris was one of three academics recognised for their work on the mechanisms of memory.

Professor Sir Adrian Bird, Buchanan Professor of Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, said: “I am truly honoured to be awarded the Brain Prize. I have been fortunate to work with outstanding people over the years, and this recognition from the Lundbeck Foundation is also a credit to them. Like so many discoveries that have turned out to be biomedically important, the work we began in the 1990s started out as blue-skies research with no obvious practical benefit. I am grateful for all the generous support I’ve received from the University, the Wellcome Trust and the Rett Syndrome Research Trust since those early days.”

 
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