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2014 Sarah Gund Prize

Pasko Rakic, MD, PhD

Each year the Child Mind Institute’s Scientific Research Council selects an exceptional researcher for the Sarah Gund Prize, in recognition of an outstanding contribution to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience. The award honors contributions either to clinical science or basic science. The award carries a prize of $25,000 and is presented at the Child Mind Institute’s Annual Child Advocacy Award Dinner. The award recipient, along with several other scientists selected because they have been influenced by recipient’s work, are featured presenters at our next On the Shoulders of Giants scientific symposium.

Pasko Rakic, MD, PhD, received his medical and graduate degrees in developmental biology and genetics from Belgrade University (former Yugoslavia), where he became assistant professor until being offered a faculty position at Harvard Medical School. He was at Harvard for eight years before taking the endowed Dorys McConnell Duberg Neuroscience and Neurology professorship at Yale University, where he is also chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience.

Dr. Rakic’s research interests are in developmental neurobiology, particularly cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuronal proliferation, migration and synaptogenesis during development and evolution of the cerebral and cerebellar cortex. His studies led to the postulate of the “radial unit” and “protomap” hypotheses of cortical development and evolution that provide the framework for understanding normal and pathological development of the human brain. By manipulating the rate and pattern of neuronal migration, using genetic tools and environmental factors, he and his colleagues discovered the hidden abnormalities of neuronal positioning that cannot be discerned by routine postmortem examination of the human brain, providing explanations for the pathogenesis of a variety of congenital malformations including lissencephaly, polymicrogyria and childhood epilepsy, as well as new insight into possible developmental origin of disorders of higher brain functions, such as autism, schizophrenia and forms of mental retardation.

Dr. Rakic is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA); American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Institute of Medicine (USA); and a foreign member of Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Serbian Academy of ­Sciences, and Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has also been President of the Society for Neuroscience. His honors include Karl Spencer Lashley Award, Francois I Medal, College de France, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pasarow, Henry Gray, Gerard and Fyssen Science Prize, and most recently Kavli Neuroscience Prize for his discoveries on how the neurons in the embryonic brain arrange themselves during development into the complex, densely interconnected synaptic circuitry of the adult cerebral cortex.