Rochester Neuroscientist Honored By Danish Academy

September 23, 2008

Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., has been elected a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, the premier scientific society in Denmark. The society elects only six new members worldwide every other year.

Nedergaard has been a pioneer in brain research, demonstrating that brain cells known as astrocytes play a role in a host of human diseases. For decades, much of the attention of neuroscientists had been focused on brain cells known as neurons, which send electrical signals. Astrocytes were long considered cells whose primary function was to support the neurons.

Nedergaard has turned that notion on its head, showing that astrocytes themselves play an important role in epilepsy, spinal cord disease, migraine headaches, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease.

A key to her work has been a sophisticated laser imaging system called two-photon imaging that gives scientists a glimpse of activities inside living brain tissue. With this tool, Nedergaard is discovering what amounts to a previously undiscovered language of brain cells – ways in which astrocytes communicate with each other and with other cells in ways long unknown.

She first started thinking about astrocytes as a physician doing research on stroke in Copenhagen. Stroke is a condition often thought of mainly as a disease of neurons —limited oxygen to the brain’s neurons causes brain damage. But she felt it likely that astrocytes were central to stroke damage, explaining that the way in which stroke damage occurs in the brain often follows the general manner in which astrocytes, not neurons, are connected. Her research brought her from Copenhagen to Cornell, and, in 2003, to Rochester.

Nedergaard is Professor of Neurosurgery and leads the biomedical imaging and biomarkers innovative science program of the Medical Center’s strategic plan. A native of Denmark, she received her medical and doctoral degrees from the University of Copenhagen.

The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, founded in Copenhagen in 1742, recognizes great achievement in basic science research.

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