Vanessa Ruta, head of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University, has been chosen as a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Ruta is among twenty-two early-career researchers who are being honored for showing outstanding promise in science relevant to the advancement of human health. They will each receive $240,000 over four years to pursue their research without restriction.
Launched in 1985, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences recognizes applicants from all areas of physical and life sciences related to biomedical study who demonstrate both excellence and innovation in their research. This year, 179 institutions were invited to nominate a candidate, and 134 eligible nominations were received. Since its inception, over 500 Pew Scholars have received more than $130 million in funding.
Ruta studies the means by which circuits in the brain can be modified by experience. One aspect of her research looks at the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. A goal of the lab is to exploit the numerical simplicity of the fly nervous system to trace neural circuits from the detection of sensory cues all the way through to implementation of a motor response. By characterizing these neural processing pathways, Ruta hopes to reveal conserved neural mechanisms that translate sensation into action.
The Ruta lab is also interested in how sensation is converted to action at the molecular level. By studying insect odorant receptors, they hope to reveal the mechanism of odorant signaling in insects and to lay the foundation for new strategies to halt the transmission of insect-borne diseases.
Ruta received her B.A. in chemistry from Hunter College and her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 2005, where she was a member of Roderick MacKinnon’s laboratory. She conducted postdoctoral research in Richard Axel’s laboratory at Columbia University and joined Rockefeller as assistant professor in 2011. Ruta also received a McKnight Scholar Award this year, as well as the Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2007, the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award in 2005 and a David Rockefeller Fellowship in 2003.
Eleven other Rockefeller scientists have been honored as Pew Scholars, including MacKinnon in 1992.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is an independent nonprofit that partners with a range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.