Gladstone Investigator Receives the 2019 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise

February 4, 2019
By Françoise Chanut, Julie Langelier / Gladstone News
Dr. Jeanne Paz
Jeanne Paz is one of three recipients of the 2019 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science.

Jeanne T. Paz, PhD, assistant investigator at the Gladstone Institutes, has been selected for the 2019 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. The Vilcek Foundation awards prizes each year to “emerging immigrant artists and scientists who have shown exceptional promise early in their career.”

“I am so grateful to the Vilcek Foundation for recognizing my work and for their commitment to honoring the contributions of immigrants in science and other fields,” says Paz, who was born in Georgia (then part of the Soviet Union), and is also an assistant professor of neurology at UC San Francisco.

Paz’s research at Gladstone is focused on epilepsy, which occurs in a number of neurological diseases. While many antiepileptic drugs exist, they often have side effects and cannot fully suppress the highly disruptive and potentially fatal symptoms seen in patients with epilepsy. Her laboratory seeks to improve this situation by investigating how epileptic activity is initiated and maintained.

“Jeanne’s work has revealed surprising insights into how the brain’s wiring changes after injury and how that can cause seizures,” says Deepak Srivastava, MD, president of the Gladstone Institutes. “We are excited about where her research may lead and how it can be applied to help patients.”

Paz uses optogenetics—a technique to manipulate the activity of genetically modified neurons with laser light—to understand the mechanisms involved in epileptic seizures. Her team was the first to develop an approach in animal models to detect and stop epileptic seizures instantaneously, in real-time, by targeting one specific cell type in the brain.

“Jeanne’s research may lead to new approaches to predict epileptic activity before it happens and to stop it as soon as it begins,” adds Lennart Mucke, MD, director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease. “It could have important implications for treating a broad spectrum of brain disorders including autism and dementia.”

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise is awarded each year to three scientists and three artists. The science laureates are selected by independent panels of biomedical experts.

“Immigrant scientists are behind some of the most transformative discoveries made on American soil, as epitomized by the winners of the Vilcek Foundation Prizes,” said Jan Vilcek, Chairman and CEO of the Vilcek Foundation, in a news release. “Their work has extraordinary implications for our understanding of human biology and our prospects for treating human disease.”