April 4, 2008

National society honors Blakely

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Randy Blakely, Ph.D., has received two major awards this year from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. (photo by Anne Rayner)

National society honors Blakely

Randy Blakely, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt's Center for Molecular Neuroscience, has received two major awards this year from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), one of the oldest and most prestigious science organizations.

The 2008 ASPET Julius Axelrod Award, which recognizes outstanding scientific contributions in research and mentoring, and an ASPET-Astellas Award in Translational Pharmacology will be presented to Blakely on April 5 during the Experimental Biology Meeting in San Diego.

“These awards, one named for a giant in my field and the other a recognition of the effort of a basic scientist to pursue connections to the clinic, are of course extremely gratifying,” said Blakely. “I can only say that I will try my best to honor the legacy of the first and the spirit of the latter, and am fortunate to have a truly wonderful team of scientists and collaborators to join with me in these pursuits.”

“Randy receiving these awards is a great honor to him and to our institution,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research. “He is a stellar scientist and mentor and well deserves the recognition.”

Blakely is renowned for his research on neurotransmitter transporters — proteins that reside on the surface of neurons and act as molecular “vacuum cleaners,” clearing the synapse of released chemical messengers. Transporter proteins are targets for therapeutic drugs and drugs of abuse, including antidepressants, cocaine and amphetamines.

Blakely was the first to identify the human genes that code for the transporters that clear norepinephrine, serotonin and choline, and he has also identified a number of other transporter genes targeting other important brain chemicals.

In recent studies, Blakely and colleagues have identified sites of cocaine and antidepressant recognition, discovered multiple pathways that regulate transporter activity, and elucidated contributions of transporter genetic variation to human disorders including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cardiovascular disorders.

The group has embraced model systems that range from C. elegans worms and transgenic mice to studies with human platelets and lymphocytes to capture the power of different approaches for understanding transporter physiology, drug recognition and regulation.

Blakely has mentored more than 30 young pharmacologists and neuroscientists during his career, a number of whom hold academic faculty appointments or leadership positions in industry, and he has served as director of both graduate and postdoctoral neuroscience training programs at Vanderbilt.

He is a current MERIT awardee of the National Institute of Mental Health, and the current director of the Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Training Program in Neurogenomics and the Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research, a National Institute of Mental Health-sponsored program designed to investigate the genes and proteins that control serotonin signaling during development and in the adult.

About the awards

• The Julius Axelrod Award — Established in 1991, the award honors the memory of the eminent American pharmacologist who shaped the fields of neuroscience, drug metabolism and neuropharmacology. It is presented annually for “significant contributions to understanding the biochemical mechanisms underlying the pharmacological actions of drugs and for contributions to mentoring other pharmacologists,” according to ASPET.

• The ASPET-Astellas Awards in Translational Pharmacology — Funded by a grant from the Astellas Foundation, the awards recognize “novel pharmacologic approaches or technologies that may offer significant advances in clinical medicine,” according to ASPET.

ASPET-Astellas Awards are also being presented to John Lazo, Ph.D., Allegheny Foundation Professor of Pharmacology and Anthony Kanai, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology, both at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Blakely is the Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology.