Kristen Brennand, PhD, professor of psychiatry, has been named a finalist for the 2022 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, the world’s largest unrestricted prize honoring early-career scientists and engineers.
Brennand is one of 31 finalists. From that group, three winners – in life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences – will be named on June 29. Each will receive $250,000 as a Blavatnik National Awards Laureate.
The honorees were chosen from a highly competitive pool of 309 nominees from 150 leading universities and scientific institutions from 38 states across the United States.
“Since the Blavatnik National Awards were established nine years ago, many of our finalists have made extraordinary discoveries that have led to groundbreaking innovations in their respective fields,” said Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries and head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, which co-sponsors the awards with the New York Academy of Sciences.
Previous honorees have gone on to help develop COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics; identify sustainable energy and battery technologies; tackle climate change through novel technologies, such as next-generation photovoltaics and sustainable new materials; and find cures for treatment-resistant diseases. Many also have received other prestigious honors, including being elected as fellows to the National Academy of Sciences or selected as MacArthur Foundation fellows.
“We are proud to honor their commitment to scientific excellence and celebrate their achievements. We look forward to following their continued success,” Blavatnik said.
Brennand, a neuroscientist, has created an ingenious method using stem cell technology to create neurons from the skin cells of people with schizophrenia to better understand and treat the disease. By combining these bioengineered neurons, CRISPR engineering techniques, and novel epigenomic analysis, she explores the genetic and environmental risk factors for schizophrenia.
She discovered that seemingly small genetic risk factors can have a significant impact on a neuron’s activity, size, and gene regulation. Her research offers opportunities to improve precision treatments as well as methods to prevent schizophrenia.
President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences Nicholas B. Dirks said, “There are many prizes for lifetime achievement in science, but there are only a few prizes that honor scientists at this critical crossroads in their careers. Why does this matter? It’s at this stage where support and recognition can make a tremendous difference, giving enormous visibility to their research.
“On behalf of the academy, I also would like to thank our judges and our scientific advisory council—all eminent scientists from across the U.S. We couldn’t successfully administer these awards without their continued support and the engagement of the broader scientific community,” he said.
Three highly respected independent juries — each representing one of the award categories — selected these finalists and will determine the winning laureates. Laureates must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger, and nominated to the competition by their university or research institution.