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Niels Ringstad, PhD, Honored by President Obama as Outstanding Early-Career Scientist

NYU School of Medicine is proud to announce that Niels Ringstad, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of cell biology and a member of The Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Center for Biology & Medicine at the Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine, has been named one of 96 researchers to receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

"Dr. Ringstad’s research on neuropeptides is truly groundbreaking,” said Ruth Lehmann, PhD, the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology and director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. “Taking advantage of the stereotyped behavior of his model organism, the roundworm C. elegans, he is gaining fundamental understanding of the nervous system with direct relevance to neural disorders in humans. His thoughtfulness in approach and perseverance in the lab promise to provide new targets for the treatment of psychiatric illness and neurological disorders, making him an excellent fit for this prestigious award. We are honored that he is part of our research family and proud of his accomplishments."

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. 

Dr. Ringstad received his PhD in 2000 from Yale University and then went on to conduct his postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Nobel Laureate Robert Horvitz, PhD. Dr. Ringstad then joined the NYU School of Medicine family as a member of The Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Center for Biology & Medicine at the Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine in the Molecular Neurobiology program in September 2009.

Dr. Ringstad’s research focuses on molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter action, both in chemical signaling and their affect on circuits that cause behavioral states — such as major depression, schizophrenia, and addiction — with the aim of identifying new therapeutic targets for the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders. He is studying the molecular biology of chemical neurotransmission and the mechanisms that regulate the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, using genetic and physiological studies of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. C. elegans have an anatomically simple nervous system that uses most of the major neurotransmitters found in the human brain.

Many psychiatric and neurologic disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia, are treated using drugs that target neurochemical signaling pathways in the brain. Dr. Ringstad’s research seeks to understand neurochemical signaling pathways at their molecular level. His specific interests involve pathways that use neuropeptides and transmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, and his lab uses behavioral, genetic and physiological studies of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans to identify new genes that are required for the actions of neuropeptides and biogenic amine neurotransmitters. Dr. Ringstad’s belief is that such genes may encode novel therapeutic targets of new, potential drugs.

His studies have revealed important interactions between neuropeptide signaling and the function of other neurotransmitter signaling systems in the control of behavior, and he has identified novel receptors for neurotransmitters that define a new mechanism of action for these important neurochemicals. His work has been published in top scientific journals, including Science and Nature Neuroscience.

The Presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, tackle grand challenges, and contribute to the American economy. The recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veteran Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions.

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