Northwestern scientist receives $500,000 research award from Rita Allen Foundation

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

Northwestern neurobiology Prof. Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy received a $500,000 award from the Rita Allen Foundation to continue her research on how fast-acting antidepressants impact the brain.

Starting this September, Kozorovitskiy will receive $100,000 each year for the next five years. She is the first Rita Allen Foundation Scholar from NU and one of seven biomedical scientists selected for this year’s award.

Kozorovitskiy said her projects are multidisciplinary and require a variety of equipment and technology — as a neuroscientist, her work involves biology as well as some chemistry and physics. The areas she studies include animal behavior, how neurons operate, physiological recording, imaging of structures and imaging of functions for neurons in the brain, she said.

The research award will go toward a project focusing on plasticity-related questions — specifically, how neurons and connections between neurons in the brain change — both in a model of a depression-like state and after administering certain kinds of drugs, Kozorovitskiy said.

“Really, the goal is to understand the fundamental circuitry of depression as well as try to design mechanistic approaches and maybe even develop some new targets in order to treat it much more efficaciously than we are currently able to do,” she said.

Kozorovitskiy was chosen by an internal selection committee to represent the University in the national award competition. The five-year distribution of the award is a great and unusual opportunity in the biomedical field, she said.

“A lot of the awards that junior faculty are eligible for, they’re typically small and they’re typically relatively short-lasting, enabling you to collect a bit of preliminary data to try to become competitive for national funding,” she said. “This award actually provides considerable continuity.”

The Rita Allen Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee chooses award winners based on several factors, including attention to innovation, a focus on areas of global concern, opportunities for lasting outcomes and a demonstration of leadership and learning potential.

“By investing in outstanding biomedical scientists at the early stages of their careers, we are providing resources to these scholars to pioneer new approaches and discoveries,” Elizabeth Christopherson, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release. “Researching basic biological questions is essential to improve human health and alleviate suffering caused by cancer, chronic pain, mental illness and other maladies.”

The Scientific Advisory Committee evaluated Kozorovitskiy’s entire body of work after she submitted her proposal to the foundation.

“They look at the specific proposal itself but also how it fits within your overall framework of your research and your career trajectory,” she said.

Ravi Allada, chair of the NU neurobiology department, said the award reflects positively on Kozorovitskiy’s work and on the growth of neuroscience research at NU.

“Primarily, this is really about (Kozorovitskiy) and the outstanding science that she’s done … it’s about her promise,” Allada said. “Secondarily, I hope it’s also about the environment that we have here at Northwestern, that we are building a strong neuroscience community.”

Kozorovitskiy said she feels extremely lucky to have received the award.

“It’s only been a couple of years that Northwestern has been interacting with this foundation and was able participate in this program,” she said. “While I’m delighted to be the first to receive this honor, I’m sure that I’m the first of many.”

Correction: A previous version of this article’s headline misstated the amount of the award. The award is $500,000.

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