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May 29, 2001

Neish, Sathian take research prize

By Michael Terrazas


The University Research Committee (URC) awarded this year’s Albert E. Levy Scientific Research Awards to Andrew Neish, assistant professor of pathology, and Krish Sathian, associate professor of neurology. Neish took the junior faculty award, while Sathian received the distinction for a senior faculty member.

Neish won for a paper published in the Sept. 1, 2000, issue of Science that described a mechanism by which certain bacteria in the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract interact with the body’s immune system to subdue intestinal inflammation that otherwise would destroy them.

Neish said certain bacteria have been found to have a beneficial effect in humans; bacteria in yogurt, for example, “colonize” in the GI tract and aid in digestion. But the process by which these organisms avoid activating the body’s autoimmune response was unknown.

“People had assumed these strains of nonpathogenic bacteria were inert or just ‘passengers’ [in the GI tract],” Neish said. “We think certain bacteria may have found a way to essentially negotiate with the GI tract to shut down the responses that would normally kick them out.”

Neish said the finding could alter scientists’ understanding of inflammatory bowel diseases. The next step, he said, is to determine whether the “negotiation” process is unique to the strains of bacteria in the study or whether other bacteria can have similar effects.

Sathian’s award-winning paper first appeared in Science in 1999 and detailed a study in which he and his colleagues proved that the brain’s visual cortex plays an active role in human tactile perception.

“The findings are relevant to understanding not only how the brain normally processes sensory information but also how such processing is altered in conditions such as blindness, deafness or numbness, and ultimately to improving methods of communication for individuals afflicted with these disorders,” Sathian said.

He added that, since the study appeared in Science, he has completed a followup investigation that concluded the visual cortex is more involved in tactile perception of large-scale features—trying to assess the size and shape of an object, for example—than perception of small-scale attributes such as texture. He presently is putting these findings together in another paper.

Ken Minneman, who chaired the URC biological and health sciences subcommittee for the award, endorsed both studies for the Levy Award.

“These are both tremendously strong papers that reflect highly on the quality of scientific research at Emory,” said Minneman, who noted that the papers appeared in the more mainstream Science and Nature magazines rather than specialized journals. “While it is difficult to compare these to journals in the social sciences, the impact factor of these journals is undoubtedly higher than that of the journals in which the social science papers were published.”

URC chair Josiah Wilcox said, due to the difficulty in comparing “hard science” disciplines with research in social sciences and the humanities, the committee has recommended adding another component to the Levy Award that would recognize research in the latter, but no decisions have been finalized.


Back to Emory Report May 29, 2001