Rutishauser Wins PRISM Prize for Brain Research

Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, (right) is congratulated by Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO, on being awarded the 2017 Prize for Research in Scientific Medicine (PRISM Prize).

Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, associate professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology and Biomedical Sciences, has received the 2017 Cedars-Sinai Prize for Research in Scientific Medicine (PRISM Prize). The annual prize honors a Cedars-Sinai scientist who has made an exemplary scientific breakthrough or produced a critical medical insight within the past five years.

The award was announced June 7 at the commencement ceremony of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Programs in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine. The prize committee cited Rutishauser's "seminal and paradigm-shifting observations regarding the circuit mechanisms underlying human memory formation. This award underscores the importance of a basic discovery as a bridge to improved clinical outcomes."

Rutishauser has uncovered new information on how the brain stores and maintains memories — the ability to remember ideas, thoughts, images and objects. His research has revealed a memory circuit within the human brain that supports aspects of both short- and long-term memory. Short-term, or working, memory is crucial to making decisions and mental calculations. Long-term memory allows people to recall the names of colleagues or remember where they parked their cars.

Working with neurosurgeons at Cedars-Sinai, Rutishauser's laboratory identified specific types of neurons involved in creating and retrieving memories and in using such memories to inform decisions. These neurons were found in the medial frontal lobe and medial temporal lobe of the brain. The team's latest findings were published in two articles in 2015 and earlier this year in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The studies were performed on epilepsy patients who volunteered to participate. Modified electrodes were implanted in the patients' brains to monitor the electrical activity of individual neurons. The team then studied the activity of these neurons while patients formed and retrieved memories during a series of memory games. Rutishauser helped pioneer this monitoring technique, called human single-neuron recording, in close collaboration with Adam N. Mamelak, MD, professor of Neurosurgery and director of Functional Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai.

In announcing the PRISM Prize, Mamelak said: "Rutishauser's data now permits construction of a more complete and full-scale understanding of how memory integrates with other aspects of cognitive function. Such complete network models provide invaluable insight into how the human brain functions, and also provide new avenues for therapeutic intervention for memory disorders, autism, learning disabilities and even schizophrenia."

Rutishauser continues to advance his research, aided by several grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. He said his next goal is to understand how various areas of the brain work together to support memory.

The recipient of numerous honors, including the Troland Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, Rutishauser holds a doctorate in Computation and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology. He joined Cedars-Sinai in 2012 as an assistant professor.

"I am very pleased and honored to receive the 2017 PRISM Prize," Rutishauser said. "The work it recognizes is the result of a long-term collaboration among a diverse group of scientists and clinicians, and it is a great honor for us to be recognized.”

The PRISM Prize, established in 2015, confers $10,000 and a medal on the winners. The investigators are nominated by Cedars-Sinai faculty members and chosen by an external committee of prominent scientists.

The past honorees are Robert H. Baloh, MD, PhD, associate professor and director of Neuromuscular Medicine in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Neurology; and Stanley C. Jordan, MD, professor of Medicine and director of Kidney Transplantation and Transplant Immunology.

Related stories: