NRC Holmes Award winner continues fundamental research that may lead to improved psychiatric therapeutics

January 14, 2016— Ottawa, Ontario

image of Dr. HaoSheng Sun

The 2015 Holmes Award has gone to Dr. HaoSheng Sun for his neuroscience research.

The 2015 Holmes Award has gone to Dr. HaoSheng Sun for his neuroscience research into important cellular and developmental processes in the brain and the nervous system, which provide novel insights into potential therapeutic treatments of neural disorders such as depression and addiction.

The two-year, $100,000 per year award supports Dr. Sun’s work at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Dr. Sun holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and completed his undergraduate studies in Pharmacology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. His past awards and scholarships include the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship and the NIDA Cellular Biology of Addiction award.

Ground-breaking research in neuroscience using cutting-edge techniques to understand mechanisms

Dr. Sun’s doctoral research focused on the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie psychiatric disorders, mainly drug addiction and depression. More specifically, he was interested in how normal brain functions, particularly those associated with reward, are “hijacked” or dysregulated as a result of exposure to chronic adverse environmental stimuli, such as drugs of abuse or stress.

This work identified a number of key regulators that contribute to the development of these psychiatric diseases and may be useful in the development of therapeutics. It also led to an appreciation of the power of translational animal model research to understanding disease mechanisms, and a realization of how little understanding we had of basic cellular and developmental processes, particularly in the brain and the nervous system.

Enter Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a transparent nematode about 1 mm in length that lives in temperate soil environments, and a laboratory subject that is key to bringing elements of his earlier work together. “The simpler composition and the established definition of the nervous system in C. elegans offers an entry point to addressing this question and elucidating mechanisms that can be applied to more complex mammalian nervous systems,” he says.

Dr. Sun aims to use the latest tools to characterize the changing molecular composition of a core circuit in the C. elegans nervous system. Using cutting-edge molecular techniques to profile and understand transcriptional control in individual neurons, Dr. Sun also plans to test the hypothesis generated by these approaches by using molecular genetics techniques.

His research will eventually contribute to understanding how development is regulated in single neurons, which will provide fundamental information as to how disruption of such processes can lead to the onset of neural diseases and provide novel insights into potential therapeutic treatments.

“I am extremely honoured to be the recipient of this prestigious award and appreciative of the NRC’s recognition and support for my research proposal,” says Dr. Sun.

About the H.L. Holmes Award

The H.L. Holmes award for Post-Doctoral Studies was established by NRC in honour of the late Dr. H.L. Holmes, a Canadian chemist who bequeathed his estate to NRC in the late 1980s. It was Dr. Holmes’ request that NRC use his estate to provide the best research training and experience to Canadian post-doctoral students in medical and biological fields, including the opportunity to work in excellent labs around the world.

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