D. James Surmeier, PhD, the chair and Nathan Smith Davis Professor of Neuroscience, has been named the winner of the 2021 Tripartite Legacy Faculty Prize in Translational Science and Education.
“I’m really humbled,” Surmeier said. “This award… is a reflection of why I came to Northwestern; why I’ve stayed at Northwestern: it creates a unique environment where basic scientists who are really invested in understanding disease mechanisms can work shoulder to shoulder with clinicians. This award is a recognition of that team effort.”
Surmeier’s research focuses on the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and chronic pain. Specifically, it has explored how neurons in the brain’s striatum — a cluster of neurons in the subcortical basal ganglia — and its connections with other brain regions are shaped by dopamine and, ultimately, how its loss in Parkinson’s disease induces the remodeling of this network.
Surmeier is the author of more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and is the principal investigator for research projects funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Ben Yang, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow that trained with Surmeier, praised his mentorship.
“The time that I spent with Dr. Surmeier during my PhD has transformed me, not just to a better scientist but also a better father, a better husband and overall a better person — and hopefully one day a better mentor and a leader like him,” Yang said.
That spirit of collaboration and mentorship was also highlighted by Tracy Gertler, ’11 MD, ’09 PhD, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Neurology and Epilepsy and of Pharmacology: “Dr. Surmeier has played this mentorship role for me that has changed a lot over time because I’ve moved from being a grad student to an intern to resident and postdoc and now junior faculty, and at different times we’ve had conversations about everything from a specific experiment to what do I need to start a lab, so I really appreciate him having these longitudinal conversations.”
Surmeier received his PhD in physiology and biophysics from the University of Washington, and a Master of Science from the University of Oregon. He joined the Feinberg faculty in 1998, and became chair of the Department of Neuroscience (then known as the Department of Physiology) in 2001.
Surmeier is a two-time winner of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award for demonstrated scientific excellence and productivity in neurological research, which recognizes those investigators with a distinguished record of substantial contributions to neurological science. He has also been honored with the C. David Marsden Presidential Lecture Award by the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society for his contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease.
About the Tripartite Prize
The Tripartite Legacy Faculty Prize is given annually to a faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in research that emphasizes translational approaches, teaching and mentoring, and leadership. The award is sponsored and supported by the Office of the Dean and is made possible through the generous support of family members and friends of Geoffrey Kent, MD, PhD.
The prize was established to commemorate the medical teaching legacies of Abraham Albert Hijmans van den Bergh, MD; Isadore Snapper, MD; Hans Popper, MD; Fenton Schaffner, MD; and Kent. European-born and educated, their lives were forever changed by the Holocaust and war: all but Hijmans van den Bergh reached the United States to continue their careers and briefly worked together at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Through their prolific collaborations and publications, Snapper, Popper, Schaffner and Kent emerged as international leaders in the study of liver disease.