EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Marco Gallio has been selected as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The neuroscientist is one of 22 Pew Scholars named this year nationwide.
Gallio uses the tiny fruit fly -- the size of a pinhead -- as a “fantastic model” in which to study how the brain controls behavior, helping scientists better understand how sensory circuits work in human brains.
The 2016 class of Pew biomedical scholars is drawn from prestigious institutions across the country, with each early-career scientist receiving four years of flexible funding to pursue foundational, innovative research.
“I am humbled by this award -- a lot of the scientists I look up to as role models have been recipients of this award in years past,” said Gallio, assistant professor of neurobiology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “This is fantastic encouragement for a junior principal investigator and pushes us to dare attacking more and more challenging scientific questions.”
Among the 22 scholars, five, including Gallio, were selected for their dedication to studying the human brain as it ages. Research conducted by these scholars will improve scientific understanding of health challenges connected with the inevitable process of growing older.
Gallio’s goal is to understand how the external world is represented within the brain during decision-making and how this representation translates into behaviors such as attraction and rejection. His lab has reduced this problem by tackling it in a simpler system: the fruit fly brain. Made up of 100 thousand neurons rather than the nearly 100 billion in the human brain, the fruit fly brain is still capable of very sophisticated computation and can produce complex behaviors such as in-flight navigational control and courtship songs.
“The Pew funding will allow us to step up our game when it comes to innovative technology applied to the study of the fruit fly brain,” Gallio said. “We are planning to build a ‘virtual reality’ environment where we can challenge flies with different sensory stimuli and, at the same time, look at the activity of neuronal ensembles, in real time, as the fly brain processes decisions and produces appropriate behavior.”
Pew’s 2016 biomedical scholars become part of a community of scientists dedicated to collaboration and mentorship; each year, scholars meet to discuss their research among peers, explore different areas of biomedical science and spark ideas.