Carla Shatz receives prestigious psychobiology prize

Carla Shatz

CARLA SHATZ, the Sapp Family Provostial Professor in Neurobiology, has been awarded the Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology.

The $100,000 prize, presented by the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College, recognizes Shatz’s discovery that neuronal activity prior to birth is essential for later formation and refinement of connections in the visual system. The work advanced the understanding of fundamental principles of the early brain and has important implications for understanding how the visual system refines its connections.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive this wonderful recognition from the Sackler Institutes in the name of this distinguished family,” Shatz said. “Understanding fundamental mechanisms of brain development and the dynamic interplay between nature and nurture are essential for treating, and someday curing, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.”

One of the most unexpected insights from her own work, she said, involved discovering that nerve cells in the baby’s brain spontaneously send signals from the eye to the brain’s visual centers long before vision. “It is as if the brain is running test patterns and rehearsing for vision long before birth, and we know that this rehearsal is a key part of brain-circuit tuning during development,” she said.

Shatz is the third recipient of the prize, which recognizes not only her scientific achievements but also her leadership in the field of neuroscience and her track record of mentorship. She is director of Bio-X, Stanford’s interdisciplinary biosciences program that brings together faculty from across the university – clinicians, biologists, engineers, physicists and computer scientists – to unlock the secrets of the human body in health and disease.