Weill Cornell Professor Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award

Feb 20, 2004

New York, NY

Dr. Bernice Grafstein, a noted expert in the field of neuroregeneration research and the Vincent and Brooke Astor Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, has been honored with Women in Neuroscience's prestigious 2003 Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented to Dr. Grafstein in conjunction with the 2003 Society for Neuroscience Meeting, the major annual scientific event for the neurosciences.

The Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award, awarded to a living recipient, honors an individual with outstanding career achievements in neuroscience, who has also significantly promoted the professional advancement of women within the field.

Dr. Grafstein, long an advocate for women-scientists and an acknowledged role model for many of her women students and colleagues, was the first woman to be elected President of the Society for Neuroscience.

Dr. Grafstein's research at Weill Cornell has centered on the regenerating goldfish visual system, with a continuing focus on axonal transport and the role it plays in defining the process of regeneration. The goldfish optic nerve regenerates readily and therefore serves as a convenient system for determining the salient characteristics of a successfully regenerating nerve cell.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Grafstein received her B.A. in Physiology from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in Physiology from McGill University. After postgraduate work in the Department of Anatomy at University College London, she returned as a faculty member to McGill, but shortly thereafter, as the result of a decision to concentrate on research in developmental neurobiology, she moved to The Rockefeller University. In 1969, she joined the Department of Physiology at Cornell University Medical College, now known as Weill Cornell Medical College, where she remains a Professor of Physiology and Biophysics.

Throughout her career, Dr. Grafstein has been interested in the correlation between function and structure in nervous tissue. Her Ph.D. thesis work, carried out under the direction of Dr. B. Delise Burns, involved an electrophysiological analysis of the phenomenon of spreading depression in the cerebral cortex, a study that is still highly regarded in its field. Her subsequent work on chronic changes in electrical activity following cortical injury, and the organization and development of callosal connections in the cortex were also pioneering studies in the analysis of cortical activity with respect to the underlying tissue structure.

As Dr. Grafstein became increasingly interested in how connections among nerve cells are formed, she began to prepare herself for work in this area by studying with the noted embryologist, Dr. Viktor Hamburger, at Washington University, and by taking the Embryology Course at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Subsequently, she was invited by the eminent developmentalist, Dr. Paul Weiss, to join the faculty of The Rockefeller University, where she began the research on nervous system regeneration and axonal transport that has primarily occupied her since then.

Dr. Grafstein is a Life Trustee and Treasurer of the Grass Foundation, a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and a member of the Council of the New York Hall of Science. Previously, she has been a member of the National Advisory Council of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Chairman of the Committee for Brain Science of the National Research Council, and a member of the Research Council's Advisory Committee for USSR and Eastern Europe. She has been a scientific advisor for a number of voluntary health organizations concerned with central nervous system injury, such as the National Spinal Cord Injury Foundation and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and has a special interest in efforts to educate the lay public about research in this area. The National Spinal Cord Injury Foundation twice awarded her its L.W. Freeman Award of Merit, and in 1982, she received an award from the New York Metropolitan Chapter of American Women in Science as an outstanding women scientist. She has been honored with a number of awards for excellence in teaching given by Weill Cornell Medical College.

She has been a member of the Society for Neuroscience since its inception, and served as a member of its Council from 1972 to 1976; Treasurer from 1977 to 1980; and President from 1985 to 1986.

Dr. Grafstein has been married since 1963 to Howard S. Shanet, who is Professor Emeritus of Music at Columbia University. They have a son, Laurence P. Shanet, who is a television producer and director.