Neuroscientist wins the German Primate Center Sponsorship Award
Benjamin Dann receives award for his research on neural networks
Anatomical network representing the functional connections of all measured nerve cells. Image: Benjamin Dann
A network of approximately 100 million nerve cells connected by about 100 trillion synapses is the foundation for our thinking, feeling and reaction. However, the exact processing in the brain remains a mystery. Benjamin Dann tackled the question. He examined the formation of information concerning our environment and our intentions in the neural network, and how the flow of information between different brain areas is coordinated. The neuroscientist was awarded the Sponsorship Award of the German Primate Center - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research for his doctoral thesis. The DPZ Sponsorship Award is given annually to young scientists who conduct research with or on non-human primates. The winner will receive a six-month scholarship at a research institute of his own choice and 1000 Euro in cash from Euroimmun in Lübeck. The award ceremony will include a presentation by the laureate and will be held on Tuesday, 7 November 2017 at 18:15 in the DPZ lecture hall, Kellnerweg 4, Göttingen. Visitors are welcome to attend the event.
"I would like to understand how the neural network in the brain functions and how neural signals are coded, transformed and coordinated," says Benjamin Dann. For his doctoral thesis, the neuroscientist wanted to find out how the neural network in several brain areas is organized and how information is processed in this network. For this purpose, he measured the activities of individual neurons in three different brain areas in rhesus monkeys, while the animals performed certain grasping movements. In the process, he found out that the nerve cells in the various brain areas that control the grasping movements of the hand are strongly interconnected. He also found out that groups of neurons control the network and act as hubs to coordinate the information flow within the neural network. In addition, all the neurons within the network were involved in the processing and planning of different grasping movements as well as in their execution.
"Benjamin Dann has gained exceptionally valuable data with his method," says Hansjörg Scherberger, head of the Neurobiology Laboratory. "The data will contribute to a better understanding of the processes in our brain and could help in the development of therapies against diseases caused by disturbances in the network structure of the brain, such as schizophrenia and autism."
Throughout his studies in Darmstadt and Magdeburg, Benjamin Dann's (35) focus was always on neurosciences. Upon completion his diploma at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, he joined the German Primate Center where he initially worked as a research assistant and later as a PhD student in the Neurobiology Laboratory and currently as a scientist. "I would like to use the fellowship for an extended research stay in the USA in order to learn new methods and ideas from the world's leading scientists," says Benjamin Dann.
"Benjamin Dann's dissertation contributes decisively to scientific progress. It shows a rare combination of excellent experimental skills and complex data analysis," is how the Scientific Advisory Board of the DPZ justified this year's laureate. The members of the externally appointed Advisory Board select the winners. The DPZ award is one of the most sought after prizes for young scientists in Germany. It is awarded by the DPZ Sponsorship society, a non-profit association that supports research on and with primates and promotes young scientists.