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Annual Message from Our Director

-December 2022-

Ehud (Udi) Isacoff
Professor of Neurobiology, Molecular and Cell Biology
Director, Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Berkeley Brain Initiative (2013-present)
Director, Weill Neurohub East (2019-present)
Evan Rauch Chair in Neuroscience 

A stage with an artistic rendering of a neuron on the screen, and a sign in front of the podium that says "Berkeley Neuroscience" and "Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute" repeating on it.

Photo from the 2022 UC Berkeley Neuroscience annual conference.

We started the 2022-23 academic year off with some exciting events! In October, we held our annual UC Berkeley Neuroscience conference at Asilomar in Pacific Grove. This was the first time we held the conference at an off-campus location since the pandemic started, and it was wonderful to share our science and connect as a community in a beautiful setting once again.

Also in October, we celebrated the opening of Joan & Sanford I. Weill Hall (formerly the Life Sciences Addition building, with the public and conference spaces of floors 1 and 2 renovated through their support) and Weill Neurohub East with a ribbon cutting ceremony. We are tremendously grateful to Joan and Sandy Weill and the Weill Family Foundation for their generous $106M gift to create the Weill Neurohub — a partnership of Berkeley, UCSF and the University of Washington, to accelerate the development of new treatments for diseases and disorders of the brain through interdisciplinary and collaborative research. We are proud to house the headquarters of Weill Neurohub East on our campus in Weill Hall, and I am honored to serve as its director.

The individuals named in the caption are standing together in front of a building that says Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall.

From left to right: Tom Daniel (director Weill Neurohub North/UW), Joan Weill, Udi Isacoff (director Weill Neurohub East/UCB), Sandy Weill, and Stephen Hauser (director Weill Neurohub West/UCSF) at the opening of Weill Hall. Photo courtesy of Keegan Houser.

We also received the fantastic news that the University of Washington has joined us in the Alliance for Therapies in Neuroscience — a partnership between UC Berkeley, UCSF, Genentech, and Roche through the Weill Neurohub. We are excited by the great potential these collaborative initiatives have to generate breakthroughs in neuroscience that could lead to the development of urgently needed new mind and brain therapies.

Our community makes all our endeavors possible, and I am pleased to welcome our newest HWNI faculty members Lin He and Preeya Khanna (starting July 2023), our Neuroscience PhD Program entering class of 2022, and the new executive director of the Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics, Imran Khan. We are thrilled to have you all in the Berkeley Neuroscience community!

A fluorescent microscopy image showing a green neuron with many branching projections over a background of smaller blue cells.

A mouse retinal ganglion cell (green), which becomes hyperactive in degenerative vision disorders. Image credit: Shubhash Yadav from Richard Kramer’s lab at UC Berkeley.

This year, our members have made many important discoveries in areas that include neural circuits and systems, brain development and how societal factors may impact it, human cognition and behavior, neurological diseases, mental health disorders, and potential treatments. As always, I am incredibly impressed with the talent, creativity, and dedication of my colleagues in HWNI. You can read about some of their recent research discoveries here.

I would like to congratulate our extraordinary faculty and other community members who have been recognized with honors and awards in the past year. David Schaffer was elected to the National Academy of Inventors, Rich Ivry was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Andrew Dillin shared the 2022 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences. Some of our faculty won early-career awards, including Markita Landry who was named the inaugural recipient of the Philomathia Prize and won a McKnight Scholar Award; Yvette Fisher who was named a Sloan Research Fellow, received a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in Neuroscience, and won an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award; and Michael Yartsev who won the C.J. Herrick Award in Neuroanatomy, the 2022 Krieg Cortical Kudos Explorer Award, the 2022 Peter Gruss Young Investigator Award, and the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award. Hillel Adesnik, Yvette Fisher, and Markita Landry were also selected as Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigators; Stephan Lammel won a Neurobiology of Brain Disorders Award; Karthik Shekhar was chosen as an investigator on the new Melza M. and Frank Theodore Barr Catalyst for a Cure to Prevent and Cure Neurodegeneration collaborative research initiative; and Aaron Joiner, a postdoc in James Hurley’s lab, was named an HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow. Finally, we were pleased to award the 2022 Rennie Fund for the Study of Epilepsy to MCB faculty member Samantha Lewis. Congratulations to everyone!

Also this year, we have continued our progress towards establishing an exciting new Department of Neuroscience at Berkeley. This will be a unique department that spans the full range of the field, from molecular to systems to human cognitive neuroscience, including computation and neuroengineering. The department will be a center for cutting-edge research, offer a new undergraduate major in neuroscience, and offer PhD training by adopting the existing Neuroscience PhD Program (which will serve both the department and broader HWNI faculty). 35 faculty are planning to join. In spring 2022, we won approval from the College of Letters and Sciences, and are now progressing through central campus review. I would like to thank HWNI faculty member Dan Feldman for all the hard work he put in to lead this effort. We hope to begin the last major review stage, by the Academic Senate, very soon, with the goal of administratively launching the department in fall 2023 and begin accepting majors and teaching in fall 2024.