by Jenny Gerow
By Fariss Samarrai
Condron was told to be in L.A. in four days.
was frightening, he said. They took me into a room,
asked me questions.
The questions were about his research proposal for a W.M. Keck
Foundation grant for Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research.
had no sense of success from that meeting, the 38-year-old
U.Va. neurobiologist said. Apparently, they liked my answers.
Keck Foundation went on to award Condron a five-year, $1 million
grant to use in whatever way he sees fit.
will you do with all that money?
could go on a very long vacation. But I will use the funds to
do the neurobiological research I have always dreamed of.
are you studying?
neurons form their precise, connected networks in the developing
brain. If we can understand this, we could possibly understand
the process of neuronal regeneration. This basic science could
lead to eventual therapies for brain injuries or diseases of the
brain, such as Alzheimers.
do you investigate the development of neuron networks?
use the fruit fly as my model because this insect has a very simple
neurological system. It is a version of the system in many organisms,
including humans. Im using genetically altered fruit fly
neurons to study and manipulate the formation of neuron network
connections. I plan to image the neurons as they grow and develop
sophisticated computer models that will hopefully not only mimic
the real thing, but will also predict the development of neuron
networks. If we can do that, we could possibly simulate how parts
of the brain develop.
teach a basic course in biology for non-science majors. Why?
students will go on to careers in law, government, industry. They
will have a great deal of influence, so they better have some
good basic understanding of science and the issues involving science.
We live in the biomedical age, which is sure to have at least
as much effect on our lives as the digital age. I think its
important for scientists like myself to talk to and educate non-scientists.
We need a general population that can think deeply and intelligently
about bioethical issues. Besides, non-science majors are a pleasure
to work with. Often they come up with concepts about the long-term
consequences of biomedical research that I had completely missed.
do you think the Keck Foundation regards you as a distinguished
the young part is questionable. On a recent visit
to an elementary school as part of Brain Awareness Week, the kids
started a guessing game about my age; they decided it must be
between 16 and 100. I left them guessing. But I believe the Keck
Foundation recognized that the experiments I proposed were different.
There are very many people conducting biomedical research and
the key is either to beat the crowd at its own game or find new
territory. I want to try the latter. The key is to start a new
wave, but not to become a quack.