Dr. Michael M. Merzenich
Dr. Michael M. Merzenich Russ Prize
Francis Sooy Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Francisco
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  • Russ
Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize
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Michael M. Merzenich is the Francis Sooy Professor (emeritus) at the University of California, San Francisco, and a founding scientist at Scientific Learning, Posit Science, and the Brain Plasticity Institute.

Merzenich led a research team that conducted extensive, original research important for the development and application of multiple-channel cochlear implants, which ultimately provided the bases for a commercial cochlear implant (Advanced Bionics’ Symbion). In 1996 he cofounded Scientific Learning, a company dedicated to delivering remedial therapies to address language, reading, attention, and cognitive impairments in school-age children. Its programs have been applied to help more than 5 million children. In 2002 he cofounded Posit Science, which produces and delivers computer-based programs to help aging, psychiatrically impaired, and brain-injured populations.

In 2009 Merzenich and his colleagues founded the Brain Plasticity Institute, a research company (later integrated back into Posit Science) that has focused on developing new treatment strategies for children and adults with severe neurological impairments. Current targets are schizophrenia prevention/treatment; major depressive and bipolar disorders; resilience training to delay the onset of schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s; “chemobrain”; brain infections; autistic spectrum disorders; ADHD and conduct disorders; childhood abuse syndromes; substance abuse disorders; hemispatial neglect syndrome; aphasias; and acquired movement disorders.

His research interests have included the functional organization of the somatosensory and auditory nervous systems; the neurological bases of—and rules governing—learning-induced cortical plasticity; and the neurological origins of and remediation of developmental and acquired impairments in language, reading, memory, attention, cognitive control, and movement. His research teams have extensively modeled changes induced in the brain (a) following brain injury and stroke; (b) resulting from distorted experiential history leading to acquired impairments, psychotic illness, and addiction; and (c) contributing to pathological neurological regression in aging. All have been studied as platforms for developing brain plasticity–based medical therapeutics to treat those conditions in human populations.

Merzenich earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Portland and his PhD at Johns Hopkins. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and the Institute of Medicine in 2010.

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  • Russ
  • 2015
  • For engineering cochlear implants that enable the deaf to hear.