Raichle awarded Kavli Prize in Neuroscience

Marcus E. Raichle, MD, a Washington University professor internationally renowned for his contributions to advancing the frontiers of cognitive neuroscience, is one of three scientists awarded this year’s prestigious Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.

Nine scientists were announced May 29 as winners of this year’s Kavli Prize, which recognizes researchers for their seminal advances in three categories: neuroscience, astrophysics and nanoscience. This year’s laureates were selected for the discovery of specialized brain networks for memory and cognition, for pioneering the theory of cosmic inflation and for contributions to the field of nano-optics.

The prize, announced at the World Science Festival in New York but streamed live from Oslo, Norway, via the Internet, is awarded by The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Raichle, professor of radiology at the School of Medicine, shares the $1 million Kavli Prize in Neuroscience with Brenda Milner of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Quebec, and John O’Keefe of University College London. The three are being recognized for their discoveries involving specialized brain networks for memory and cognition.

Raichle, who is also a professor of neurology and of neurobiology, learned of the honor Thursday morning and has since been deluged with congratulatory emails and a bottle of champagne.

“It is an incredibly pleasant surprise and extremely flattering,” Raichle said. “It’s rather nice that with the tremendous increase in interest in neuroscience and recognition at all different levels at which we work — from cells and genes, all the way up to the human brain — that this year’s award involved things we can relate to in the human brain.

“Recognition of this kind of work in particular is very neat. And you feel a sense of gratitude to the people you work with. I’ve been at Washington University for 43 years, and I’ve had the most amazing array of students and colleagues and opportunities and equipment and so forth, and those all play a huge role. I’m lucky to have been here. And to be a representative of that is an honor.”

Raichle, who is also a professor of psychology and of biomedical engineering, has played a pivotal role in the discovery of brain regions now known as the “default mode network.” These regions become active when the brain is not actively engaged in a task. His lab’s measurements of brain energy consumption have indicated that more than 95 percent of the energy used by the brain is burned by this default activity.

He and his colleagues have found that brain regions in the default network often are among the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s disease. These changes one day may aid in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Raichle earned bachelor’s and medical degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1960 and 1964, respectively. After completing an internship and medical residency at Baltimore City Hospitals as well as a residency in neurology at Cornell University Medical Center in New York, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a major.

In 1971, he joined Washington University’s Department of Neurology and the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology and became a full professor within seven years. He is a neurologist emeritus at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

His many professional honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine and fellowship in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also has received the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievement in Neuroscience Research, the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology, and the Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize.

For more information about this year’s laureates, see the 2014 Kavli Prize page.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.