New McNair Scholar Dr. Russell Ray joins BCM

March 1, 2013

Dr. Russell Scott Ray
Dr. Russell Scott Ray

Dr. Russell Scott Ray is the latest to join BCM's McNair Scholar program that identifies rising stars in four areas of biomedical research – breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, juvenile diabetes and neuroscience. He will focus on how neurons interact in the brain to control behavioral as well as physiological functions.

The program is supported by the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and managed by the McNair Medical Institute. Ray is the sixth scholar announced since the program's inception in 2010.

Prior to joining BCM as an assistant professor of neuroscience, Ray completed his postdoctoral fellowship in the Dymecki laboratory in the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School. He will continue his work using lab model systems and genetics to characterize and understand how neurons function and develop and to understand the underlying mechanisms in neurological disorders.

Understanding neurons diverse functions

"Many of the neurons found in the brainstem area project throughout the brain and spinal cord creating extensive networks or circuits," said Ray. "Since these neurons seem to interact with so many parts of the brain, they can play roles in everything from behavior and emotions to heart rate, breathing and even blood pressure. We are working toward understanding how these circuits are organized to serve so many diverse functions."

Ray will also use new technology he and his former colleagues helped to develop that allow them to target highly defined neurons by isolating cells based on multiple genetic identities and turn effector molecules on and off at different stages of development in lab models.

Ray will be a member of the Center for Addiction, Learning, and Memory (CALM) at BCM. CALM is under the leadership of Dr. John Dani, professor of neuroscience at BCM, who played a role in recruiting Ray.

On the cutting edge

"Russell brings exceptional expertise to the CALM. He is truly on the cutting edge, developing new molecular and genetic technologies to control and understand specific sets of neurons. His newly developed mouse models provide experimental avenues that enable all of us to enter previously inaccessible areas of neurological research," said Dani.

Dr. Dora Angelaki, chair of the department of neuroscience at BCM said, "I am pleased to welcome Dr. Ray as our newest faculty member. He is a superb addition to the exceptional faculty that we have in our BCM neuroscience community. I look forward with excitement to the contributions he will make to the Center for Addiction, Learning, and Memory and our department at Baylor College of Medicine."

Ray earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Southern Oregon University while working for over two years under Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard during a study abroad in Tübingen, Germany. After a Fulbright fellowship at the Instituto Cajal in Spain, Ray completed his Ph.D. in human genetics at the University of Utah under Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi. He has received numerous honors and awards for his research and has published in scientific journals including Science and Nature Genetics.