Professor receives international neuroscience award
July 25, 2011Tweet
Ralph Garruto had no idea that he would be receiving a prestigious award at the International Conference on New Discoveries of the Brain until he sat down for the opening morning ceremony in Panama City, Panama.
“You suspect something was under foot, but there was never: ‘You are going to receive an award.’ That was never stated,” said Garruto, research professor of biomedical anthropology and neurosciences.
Garruto was one of 17 world neuroscience leaders to receive a “National Plaque for Exceptional Contribution to Neuroscience” from Panama’s National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT) on May 30. The awards were presented to Garruto and the other recipients by Panamanian First Lady Marta Linares Martinelli.
“It was nice,” Garruto said. “It shows governmental commitment to science and technological development. A national award given by the highest levels of government is appreciated by the participants and gives it much more meaning.”
Garruto, who also serves as director of the University’s Serum Archive Facility, was attending the conference to give a presentation on his longtime examination of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinsonism (PD) in the Pacific areas of Guam, the Kii Peninsula of Japan and in West New Guinea.
The conference, which featured two Nobel Prize winners – Robert Huber and Ada Yonath – focused on drug discoveries and new areas of brain research. The conference also highlighted Panama’s efforts to become a future hub of science. Through its Institute for Scientific Research and High Technology Services (INDICASAT-AIP), Panama and President Ricardo Martinelli are making an investment in science that they hope will lead to economic and social growth.
Garruto is impressed by what he is seeing in Panama. A multimillion-dollar science and technology innovation complex is planned near Panama City; student researchers are receiving government funds to study in other countries and return to Panama; and the country is emphasizing biotechnology and developing drugs from natural resources to fight infectious diseases.
“They are sending a message: Panama is serious about the development of science and technology,” Garruto said. “The conference really was an eye-opener for me in many ways. I was able to listen and talk to people about their interests. They gave all of us who were there the ‘roadmap’ for where they want to go. The effort is there. Panama is not just talking about it. Panama is actually doing things to put it on that road.”
The conference was an important step for Panama in pursuing its scientific agenda, Garruto added. He pointed out that organizers made sure that science students were not only allowed to interact with the participants, but were also able to attend information sessions on what is needed to apply for scholarships and grants such as Fulbrights.
“It was wonderfully designed to maximize exposure of the young as well as allow for significant interaction of the speakers and participants,” he said. “In my opinion, it was set up beautifully.”
Garruto has returned to the Pacific for the summer, doing field work in Vanuatu, a 65-island nation more than 1,000 miles east of Australia. He is leading a team, along with Koji Lum, of mostly graduate students from Binghamton University that is examining the prevalence of malaria and chronic diseases as part of Vanuatu’s health transition. The multi-institutional team also includes scientists from Temple University, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Kelsey Dancause from McGill University in Montreal. Dancause is a postdoctoral fellow who received her doctorate in anthropology from Binghamton University in 2010.
Examining “health transitions” in far-away places where chronic diseases are just beginning to emerge along with the continuing burden of infectious diseases− and then documenting those changes over time − is crucial, Garruto said.
“You have this beautiful way of looking at a model of emergence of chronic diseases that are plaguing the world and will plague the developing world in ways it cannot handle because it doesn’t have the money or infrastructure,” he said.