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UC Berkeley Press Release

Young neurobiologist receives $1 million research award from W. M. Keck Foundation

– Lu Chen, a young University of California, Berkeley, neurobiologist and assistant professor of molecular and cell biology, was among four recent recipients of a W. M. Keck Foundation grant to support research that addresses the fundamental mechanisms of disease.

Lu Chen
Lu Chen

The grant from the foundation's 2005 Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research program, announced July 28, totals as much as $1 million over five years to support Chen's research on the synapses that nerve cells use to talk to one another.

"The foundation is honored to help support some of the nation's most promising young scientists," says Robert A. Day, chairman and chief executive officer of the W. M. Keck Foundation, a leading supporter of high-impact medical research, science and engineering. "Each recipient of the Keck Distinguished Young Scholar award has demonstrated extraordinary promise for breakthrough discovery and future academic leadership."

Chen, a member of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley, is trying to figure out how synapses form at the junction between nerve cells, and to understand the protein signals that trigger their formation. To probe a synapse, she has developed a novel hybrid cell system that allows her to explore how signaling proteins interact at the synapse.

One of her approaches is to build synapses one protein at a time to discover the critical elements of the structure. Such research could point the way toward creating functional synapses that might reverse conditions such as age-related cognitive decline.

Chen received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1998 and joined the UC Berkeley faculty in January 2003. Last year, she was awarded a prestigious Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The three other recipients of grants are Kang Shen, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University; David M. Sabatini, M.D., Ph.D., of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.; and Brian Kuhlman, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Keck Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research program was established in 1998 and renewed for another five years in 2003, bringing the total amount to be awarded to as much as $50 million by 2008. Under the program, each grant recipient's sponsoring institution receives an award of as much as $1 million to support the scientist's research activities for a period of five years. According to the foundation, "it is hoped that the investment in the Keck Scholars will greatly benefit society for generations to come with continued advances in understanding - and combating - the fundamental mechanisms of human disease."

The Los Angeles-based W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late William Myron Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation's grant-making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering. The foundation also maintains a Southern California grant program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services with a special emphasis on children and youth.