Dr. Noebels wins DeBakey

Dr. Noebels wins DeBakey Excellence in Research Award for advances in epilepsy research in Blue Bird Neurogenetics Laboratory

Dr Jeffrey Noebels, professor in the departments of neuroscience and molecular and human genetics and director of the Blue Bird Circle Developmental Neurogenetics Laboratory, was awarded the Michael E. Debakey Prize for Excellence in Research. The award is sponsored by the DeBakey Medical Foundation.  Dr. Noebels presented his research in a ceremony held at Baylor College of Medicine, July, 14th.

Noebels was nominated by Dr. Eli M. Mizrahi, chair of the department of neurology at BCM, who pointed to his ground-breaking research in epilepsy and his pioneering efforts to understand how a mutant ion channel gene can lead to an epileptic brain. He spotlighted three recent papers that highlight the depth of Noebels’ research. One in the journal Cell, found that mutation in known channel disease genes are common also in people without disease, the first time such an analysis has been done for genes now in common use for genetic diagnosis. He proposed a “rare variant pattern” hypothesis to disease causation, opening the door to computational modeling of biological systems in risk prediction.

A second article in the Journal of Physiology, demonstrated that opening a specific type of potassium channel (Kcnq) with a specific activating drug can compensate for the absence of a different potassium channel (Kv1), which is a cause of heart conduction abnormalities. It was the first published report of a K channel functional rescue using drugs and included the first microelectrode recordings of a single mouse vagal nerve.

The third article, in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that deletion of the tau protein – usually associated with dementia in a form of Alzheimer’s disease – can prevent epilepsy and its sequelae in both mouse and fly models. The finding was part of a greater understanding of the link between epilepsy and some forms of inherited Alzheimer’s disease. Noebel’s work in this area has led to an understanding that epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease may share defects in signaling within the brain’s memory circuits. Mizrahi also noted that Noebels is highly collaborative in his research and an outstanding mentor, having trained eight predoctoral students and 24 postdoctoral fellows in epilepsy research at Baylor as well as mentoring two junior faculty members who have received federal training grants. In addition, he recently  received a three-year, $1 million planning grant from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke to bring together five clinical and basic science academic centers to build a national “Center without Walls” for the study of sudden death in epilepsy, a disorder in which he is a leading researcher.

Dr. Noebels established the Blue Bird Circle Developmental Neurogenetics Laboratory in the Department of Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in 1986. The laboratory has discovered over 20 genes underlying inherited seizures, and seeks cures for childhood epilepsy. “We have had remarkable success in both generating scientific discoveries and training the next generation of researchers in the laboratory, said Noebels. “We are enormously grateful to the generous and continuous support of the Blue Bird Circle”.

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