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[June 26, 2007]


Prize is Highest Award Given in Germany to Non-German Scientists

Roger D. Traub, MD, professor of physiology and pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has been chosen to receive a Humboldt Research Award, the highest prize awarded in Germany to foreign scientists.

Dr. Traub, a neuroscientist internationally renowned for his detailed modeling of signal processing of neurons, will spend part of the year in Germany doing research on brain waves unable to be seen by regular EEG recordings (or electroencephalographic recordings).

“I’m extremely honored to have been selected by my peers,” said Dr. Traub, whose specialty is in realistic and detailed modeling of brain waves and seizures.

During his yearlong research, Dr. Traub said that he would be studying the mechanisms of a phenomenon called “sharp-wave ripples”

“I am going to examine technical issues related to the simulation of very large networks of neurons on a parallel computer, said Dr. Traub, a board certified neurologist. “I will be searching for ways that transgenic mice can be designed that shed light on the mechanisms of seizures and oscillations.”

The Humboldt award is the highest prize Germany awards to about 100 foreign scientists. All over the world, it is considered a substantial achievement to be a Humboldt Laureate.

It offers up to $1 million to outstanding non-German researchers from all disciplines to spend four years tracking down new knowledge with their own research teams in Germany.

Dr. Traub, who is credited with several breakthroughs in neuroscience, received his A.B. in 1967 in Mathematics from Princeton University. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania where he earned an M.D. in 1972. He completed his internship in Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania a year later. In 1981 he completed his residency in Neurology at the Neurological Institute of New York.

He has authored more than 100 articles. He has co-authored two books: “Fast Oscillations in Cortical Circuits with John G.R. Jefferys and Miles A. Whittington, MIT press 1999; “Neuronal Networks of the Hippocampus” with Richard Miles, Cambridge University Press 1991. He is working on a new book “Cortical Oscillations in Health and Disease with Miles A. Whittington. That book will be published next year by Oxford University Press.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Traub has dedicated his work to finding a new approach to treat and cure epilepsy, an illness that affects more than 1 million people in the United States and millions more across the world.

Dr. Traub says that when someone is having a clinical seizure you can measure brainwaves because the cells are communicating abnormally.

“My work aims to find out how and why it is happening sometimes and not other times,” he said.

A small coterie of scientists works in this field. While some of them study an actual brain, Dr. Traub designs computer models of the brain so that it helps scientists understand the intricacies of a seizure.

“You need to know mathematics to understand what’s going on and make predictions,” said Dr. Traub, who joined Downstate full time in 2001.

One of the predictions he has made is that “gap junctions” – the specialized contact between cells that allows electric current to pass between them – would exist between the axons of nerve cells within the brain. (The axon is the part of the nerve cell specialized for sending signals to other cells.)

“If this is right, it will be a very important step in understanding how seizures start.”

SUNY Downstate Medical Center is the only academic medical center in Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island. SUNY Downstate comprises Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, a School of Graduate Studies, a public health degree program, the 376-bed University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Incubator, part of a growing Biotechnology Park. To learn more about SUNY Downstate, visit