PHILADELPHIA — Amita Sehgal, PhD, the John Herr Musser Professor of Neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was given the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award for 2013 at the Association of Professional Sleep Societies meeting in Baltimore. The Award honors researchers for a single research contribution based on novel and seminal discoveries of a basic, clinical or theoretical nature.
"This award means a lot to me, as we were initially concerned whether our unconventional model for sleep would be accepted by sleep researchers,” says Sehgal.
Sleep Research Society President Ron Szymusiak, PhD, presented the award during the SLEEP 2013 plenary session. The Society recognized Sehgal for her multiple high-impact discoveries in circadian biology during her career, including identifying the Drosophila fruit fly mutant, timeless, which was the second circadian clock mutant to be identified. Sehgal demonstrated that the core molecular clock in Drosophila comprises two co-regulated genes, per and tim. Similar mechanisms were subsequently demonstrated for mammalian clocks. Sehgal and her colleagues also identified additional components of the clock and described clocks in several tissues outside the brain, thereby establishing connections between clocks and various aspects of organ physiology.
Driven by the knowledge that circadian clock mechanisms are conserved from Drosophila to humans, and the recognition that the study of sleep could benefit from the use of a simple, genetic model, Sehgal and her collaborators, in particular Joan Hendricks, VMD, PhD, currently dean of the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine, developed a rationale, approach, and methods to study sleep and the homeostatic regulation of sleep in Drosophila.
“Those first papers on sleep in flies legitimized not only the use of Drosophilia in sleep research, but other invertebrate species as well,” notes Szymusik. “Multiple labs around the world have successfully adopted this approach.”
Sehgal is a Member of the Institute of Medicine and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has received the Michael Brown Junior and Stanley Cohen Senior Faculty Research Awards from Penn, and is Consulting Editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and former Associate Editor for the Journal of Neuroscience.
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