Caltech Faculty Member Receives McKnight Neuroscience Award to Study Memory Formation

Published : Sunday, December 4, 2016 | 2:41 PM

Athanassios G. Siapas, Image from Caltech Website

“Oh, I just forgot what I was going to say!” “Now what was I getting ready to do?” “Where did I put my keys?”

For many of us, these exasperating complaints are all too common. And for others facing even more debilitating memory disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia, the dilemma is more critical.

Ultimately finding solutions to these complex problems is the mission of Athanassios Siapas, assistant professor of computation and neural systems at Caltech. Siapas has received a McKnight Scholar Award to support his work in “Cortico-Hippocampal Interactions and Memory Formation.”

This award, granted by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, is given for innovative research in neuroscience as it pertains to memory and, ultimately, to a clearer understanding and treatment of diseases affecting memory. Siapas will receive a grant of $225,000 over the next three years.

While at Caltech, Siapas has been investigating the fundamental principles that underlie memory formation and learning. His McKnight award research project will utilize a new technique-chronic tetrode recordings-to monitor large numbers of cortical and hippocampal cells. This approach promises a new understanding of the intrinsic organization of memory processing at the level of networks of neurons. The hope is that the findings from this research can eventually be translated into more efficient diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of memory dysfunctions.

Siapas obtained his PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT in 1996, and was a postdoctoral scholar at MIT concentrating on training in behavioral electrophysiology. He has been a member of the Caltech faculty since 2002. Reflective of his interdisciplinary interest, Siapas holds a joint appointment in two of Caltech’s academic divisions, the Division of Biology and the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. He was named a Bren Scholar in 2003.

The McKnight Foundation was established in 1953 by William L. and Maude L. McKnight. Supported through the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, the McKnight Scholar Award program in neuroscience was established in 1976. Its specific purpose is to identify investigative programs involving emerging neuroscientists and to encourage those investigators to develop innovative approaches to understanding the basic mechanisms of memory and the diseases affecting it. The foundation also emphasizes the transfer of basic research to clinical applications in neuroscience.

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