Sze Yen ‘John’ Kerk and Alana Mendelsohn are the winners of the 2016 Kavli Institute Award for Distinguished Research in Neuroscience

Kerk and Mendelsohn share this year’s award
By C. Doyle
May 15, 2017

The recipients of the 2016 Kavli Award for Distinguished Research in Neuroscience at Columbia University are John Kerk, a Neurobiology and Behavior graduate student who completed his thesis work in the laboratory of Oliver Hobert, and Alana Mendelsohn, a Neurobiology and Behavior MD/PhD student who completed her thesis work in the laboratory of Tom Jessell.

John’s thesis was entitled, “Diversification of Caenorhabditis elegans motor neuron identity via selective effector gene repression.” In his project, he discovered that unique combinations of subtype-specific repressors selectively, directly, and continuously counteract a master-regulatory activator to sculpt unique effector gene profiles that consequentially define distinct motor neuron subtypes in Caenorhabditis elegans. This work will help us move towards a better understanding of how a nervous system is built.

John is currently wrapping up his work in the Hobert lab, and will be starting his postdoctoral training at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals later this summer.



In Alana’s thesis work, “Specifying neurons and circuits for limb motor control,” she used the vertebrate motor system as a model to look mechanistically at several fundamental problems in neurobiology, namely how neurons acquire distinct identities and form selective circuitry. She used modern molecular genetic approaches to explore the respective contributions of molecular programming and experience to the wiring of neural circuits.

Alana will also complete her M.D. this spring, and begin clinical training in Psychiatry at Columbia University. She plans to focus her postdoctoral work on studying the basal ganglia and other subcortical circuits known to be involved in motor control and learning, motivated behavior, choice and addiction.



Congratulations to John and Alana!