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Last modified: Monday, September 10, 2012

IU's Gill Center honors Hugo J. Bellen and Guoping Feng for achievements in neuroscience

Sept. 10, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Described as generous and innovative, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be honored next month at the annual Gill Symposium of the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Biomolecular Science at Indiana University Bloomington.

Bellen, Hugo J.

Hugo J. Bellen

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Receiving the 2012 Gill Award is Hugo J. Bellen, March of Dimes Professor, director of the Program in Developmental Biology and Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. He also is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

"Over the last decade, Dr. Hugo Bellen has applied unparalleled scientific creativity and a nearly inhuman level of energy into turning the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, into a powerful model for studying several human neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington's and Lou Gehrig's disease," said Justin P. Kumar, associate professor of biology at IU Bloomington. "His efforts, along with those of past and present members of his research group, have made a palpable impact on our understanding of human disease and the ongoing search for cures."

Kumar said Bellen's generosity and sense of community are "legendary," demonstrated by the countless number of large-scale projects he has initiated on behalf of the community of researchers that uses the fruit fly as a model system for understanding development and physiology.

"While others have been less forthcoming with their creations, Hugo has made entire collections of tools, be it fly strains or molecular reagents, freely available to any and all researchers without conditions or expectations," he said. "A significant fraction of the genetic and molecular tools that we use every day in our labs was at some point generated by Hugo. We are all indebted to him for his selflessness and generosity."

After receiving the award, which includes $25,000 and a plaque, Bellen will discuss "Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS)."

Guoping Feng will receive the 2012 Gill Young Investigator Award. Feng is Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

Feng studies the development and function of synapses and their disruption in brain disorders. He uses molecular genetics combined with behavioral and electrophysiological methods to study the molecular components of the synapse and to understand how disruptions in these components can lead to common psychiatric diseases.

Of particular note are mouse models Feng and his colleagues developed for a better understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism, said Ken Mackie, Linda and Jack Gill Chair of Neuroscience and professor in IU's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

"Dr. Feng's models will allow neuroscientists to develop better therapies for these difficult-to-treat conditions," Mackie said. "These models involve sophisticated engineering of the mouse genome."

After receiving the award, which includes $5,000 and a plaque, Feng will discuss "Probing Synaptic and Circuitry Mechanisms of Psychiatric Disorders."

New to the annual symposium is a panel discussion. In addition to the awardees, featured speakers are Ulrike Heberlein, a neuroscientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus; and Craig Montell, professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. The topic of the panel discussion will be "The promise and pitfalls of using simple model systems to study human diseases."

The 2012 Gill Symposium will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 2, in the Biddle Hotel and Conference Center in the Indiana Memorial Union at IU Bloomington. Registration is free but required, and it can be completed online.

The Linda and Jack Gill Center for Biomolecular Science, which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, was established by a generous gift from Linda and Jack Gill to advance the understanding of complex biological processes and to train the next generation of scientists in biomolecular measurements, especially in the field of neuroscience. Members and collaborators include faculty from IU's departments of biology, chemistry, physics, and psychological and brain sciences, plus the IU School of Medicine.

For more information about the Gill Symposium or the Gill Center, contact Misty Theodore at 812-856-1930 or

To speak with Bellen, contact Karen Schulze at 832-824-8757 or Feng can be reached at 617-715-4898 or