Rochester Neuroscientist Awarded NSF Career Grant

June 02, 2006

"Math and engineering by themselves will never cure a patient, but you need to understand them to put together the big picture."

A scientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center has been awarded a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to continue his research using the power of numbers to improve human health.

David Pinto, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy and Biomedical Engineering, will receive $590,000 for his research during the next five years, as part of NSF’s program to support promising scientists early in their careers.

As a neuroscientist and mathematician, Pinto approaches the brain like one might expect an engineer to approach nature’s most complex engineering marvel. Currently he’s working closely with doctors who treat epilepsy, using his mathematics background to understand the disease in a way that no one has before.

“For many people with epilepsy, something in the brain has changed,” said Pinto. “The structure of the brain is the same, but tissue that was once behaving perfectly normally has changed and is now behaving abnormally. If we can understand the problem mathematically, we should be able to understand and treat the disease better than we do today.

“Math and engineering by themselves will never cure a patient, but you need to understand them to put together the big picture. Biology is becoming much more complex, and math offers a great way to put together the big picture. It gives you the tools to strip away what is not important and put together what is important in the form of new ideas.”

Growing up in Oklahoma, Pinto considers himself fortunate to have found a mentor in the sciences, and he studied artificial intelligence as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. Later he received a doctorate in applied mathematics and neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh, and then did post-doctoral research in math and neuroscience before joining the University in 2004. As the first generation of his family to go to college, Pinto recognizes how exciting and crucial early exposure to research can be for young students. That is why he plans to use part of his award to bring undergraduates and high school students into his laboratory each summer, an opportunity that could lead to a lifetime love of science and engineering.

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