Israeli Wins U.S. Science Award for Work on Brain Cell Mutations

Dr. Gilad Evrony wins $25,000 prize for series of studies on genetic mutations that may lead to illnesses such as epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia.

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Gilad Evrony.
Gilad Evrony.Credit: James Barham
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israeli researcher Dr. Gilad Evrony has won a prestigious scientific prize after developing techniques for identifying brain cell mutations that may help explain unsolved neuropsychiatric illnesses such as epilepsy and autism.

Evrony, 34, won the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology, awarded by Science magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for a series of studies he published in recent years. He summarized them in a Science article called “One brain, many genomes.” In the studies, he revealed processes of genetic mutation in brain cells known as somatic mutations.

These mutations take place in the body throughout one’s lifetime and are the source of many genetic illnesses, including all forms of cancer.

Evrony’s research dealt with the question of whether somatic mutations in brain cells contribute to the development of neuropsychiatric illnesses whose origin is presently unknown, including epilepsy, autism and schizophrenia.

Together with colleagues in the laboratory of Dr. Christopher Walsh at Boston Children’s Hospital, Evrony developed a method of identifying those mutations by genetic sequencing of single brain cells, and later tracking their patterns of migration in the brain.

Evrony, originally from Jerusalem, is doing a pediatrics residency in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. After his discharge from the army, he went to study abroad, and acquired his scientific and medical education in the United States. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, and his medical degree and doctorate from Harvard Medical School.

At the same time, he conducted his research at Boston Children’s Hospital. Last year, he was included in the MIT Technology Review’s list of the 35 leading innovators worldwide under the age of 35.

The brain is built from cells that replicate many times, each time making a copy of their genome. “Our brains are a mix of cells with copies of copies, and copies of copies of copies, and so on, of the genome. Imagine you were building a house and every brick was made by copying the previous brick rather than making all the bricks from the same original mold. That is, in a sense, the challenge of building a brain where each cell must have a relatively faithful copy of the genome,” Evrony stated. “Inevitably, mistakes in DNA replication and other mutational forces accumulate and create imperfect copies.”

“As a physician-scientist, I wanted to pursue research that could help patients with diseases whose causes are not known. I hope our findings inspire more research to bring light to unsolved neurologic diseases,” Evrony said.

The $25,000 prize was awarded to him at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in San Diego on Sunday.