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Home » Strategic Planning » Attendees » Carla J. Shatz, Ph.D.

Carla J. Shatz, Ph.D.

Carla Shatz graduated from Radcliffe College in 1969 with a B.A. in Chemistry. She was honored with a Marshall Scholarship to study at University College London, where she received an M.Phil. in Physiology in 1971. In 1976, she received a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Harvard Medical School, where she studied with the Nobel Laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel. During this period, she was appointed as a Harvard Junior Fellow. From 1976-1978 she obtained postdoctoral training with Dr. Pasko Rakic in the Department of Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School.

In 1978, Dr. Shatz moved to Stanford University, where she began her studies of the development of the mammalian visual system in the Department of Neurobiology; she attained the rank of Professor of Neurobiology in 1989. In 1992, she moved her laboratory to the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is currently Professor of Neurobiology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In April, 2000, she assumed the Chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School as the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology. Her ongoing studies of how the orderly sets of connections present in the adult brain are wired up during development have gained her numerous honors, including the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award in 1985, the Silvo Conte Award from the National Foundation for Brain Research in 1993, the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health and Education in 1995, the Alcon Award for Outstanding Contributions to Vision Research in 1997, the Bernard Sachs Award from the Child Neurology Society in 1999, and the Weizman Institute Women and Science Award in 2000. The relevance of her research to child development and learning have been recognized in many places, including Time Magazine, and by the President and First Lady Hillary Clinton, who invited Dr. Shatz to speak at the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning in 1997. In 1992, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 1995 to the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 to the American Philosophical Society, and in 1999 to the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Shatz is past president (1994-95) of the 26,000 member Society for Neuroscience and served on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences from 1998-2001. The adult brain depends upon the precision of its neural circuitry for its function. Perhaps nowhere is this requirement for precision more evident than in the mammalian visual system, where the highly refined connectivity determines our ability to recognize minute details of the visual world. How does this precision of connectivity emerge during development? A great surprise has been that connections do not simply form at the outset in the adult pattern. Not only do connections form imprecisely initially and require neural function to achieve the adult precision, but entire cell types and neural circuits, essential during development for the construction of the adult pattern of connections, are themselves transient and eliminated by adulthood. Research in Dr. Shatz's lab is directed at elucidating the molecules and mechanisms that guide the formation of precise connections in the mammalian visual system. Since many of these connections initially form in utero, this research has emphasized the early, prenatal and neonatal developmental periods. The results of these studies have broad implications for our understanding of the normal development of the human brain including the processes of learning and memory, of neurological birth defects such as cerebral palsy and dyslexia, and of epilepsy.

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