Founder of Cognitive Neuroscience—Bringing Together Brain & Behavior
Dr. Brenda Milner, an active researcher at the age of 91 at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, is widely recognized as the founder of cognitive neuroscience–the field that brings together brain and behavior and helps explain key aspects of mental illness. Today, Dr. Milner is being awarded the Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience by NARSAD, the world’s leading charity dedicated to funding research on mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorders. Dr. Milner’s colleagues have recognized her life’s work as one of the great scientific biographies of our time. Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, M.D., has credited her with merging neurobiology and psychology to form the new field of cognitive neuroscience. In September she was one of four winners of the Balzan Prize, an international award of nearly $1 million given every year to promote innovative research.
Dr. Milner’s seminal work began more than five decades ago when she studied an epilepsy patient, known as H.M., who had suffered severe memory impairment following surgery on both sides of his brain. While the surgery succeeded in eliminating H.M.’s seizures, it left him with an inability to commit new events to long term memory. Through years of working with H.M., Dr. Milner showed that the brain has several different memory systems, a truly revolutionary concept in the 1950s.
Dr. Milner’s research also profoundly influenced the understanding of brain regions that are important in mental illness, such as the frontal cortex, and has paved the way for other research in this field around the world. She discovered fundamental aspects of the ways the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate with each other, and showed how the brain dramatically reorganizes itself to keep functioning after trauma. Her research has continued into the current era with new brain imaging techniques, blending psychology, neurology, and psychiatry in research that illuminates the workings of the brain in both health and illness.
Jack Barchas, M.D., who is Chair of Psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College and chair of the Goldman-Rakic prize committee, sums up Dr. Milner’s contribution in this way: “Her impact has been overwhelming. Her work, opening so many new directions, has made Brenda Milner one of the most important neuroscientists that has ever lived and an inspiration for all of us. With rare curiosity, insight, patience, and a brilliant integrative mind, she led extraordinary pioneering studies that truly defined cognitive neuroscience early on. She demonstrated with clarity the types of advances that could be made before others had even grasped the possibilities.”
About NARSAD:(www.narsad.org) is the world’s leading charity dedicated to funding research on mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress and obsessive compulsive disorders. For 23 years, NARSAD has funded more than $256 million in grants to nearly 3,000 scientists worldwide who are studying every aspect of brain and behavior disorders that have prevented people from living healthy, productive lives. NARSAD was initially founded as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and now supports work on all major mental illnesses.
About the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital
Celebrating 75 years
The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) is a unique academic medical centre dedicated to neuroscience. The Neuro is a research and teaching institute of McGill University and forms the basis for the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. Founded in 1934 by the renowned Dr. Wilder Penfield, The Neuro is recognized internationally for integrating research, compassionate patient care and advanced training, all key to advances in science and medicine. Neuro researchers are world leaders in cellular and molecular neuroscience, brain imaging, cognitive neuroscience and the study and treatment of epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuromuscular disorders. For more information, please visit www.mni.mcgill.ca.