McLean Researcher Francine Benes Earns Prestigious Mentoring Award

October 1, 2012

Francine Benes, MD, PhD, director of the Program in Structural and Molecular Neuroscience and the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital, was recently selected as the third annual recipient of the Anne M. Cataldo Excellence in Mentoring Award. Cataldo, a member of the McLean community from 1986 until her death in 2009, served as director of the Laboratories for Molecular Neuropathology.

In a letter announcing the award, Shelly F. Greenfield, MD, MPH, chief academic officer, referenced the 18 letters submitted in support of Benes from former and current mentees around the country as the deciding factor in her selection.

“The letters written on Francine’s behalf were a wonderful affirmation of her kindness, compassion, integrity and generosity,” said Greenfield. “People spoke of her high ethical standards and commitment to excellence as well as her ability to mentor talented individuals and help them focus on achieving their own aspirations. It was truly uplifting to hear the profound effect that she has had on her mentees.”

Since 1982, Benes has devoted her career to the study of how brain circuitry is altered in schizophrenia and, more recently, bipolar disorder. She has used a combination of approaches, including a broad range of cellular and molecular strategies to study the ways in which the GABA system may be “mis-wired” within discrete portions of the limbic lobe.

Benes has served on the Editorial Boards or been a Section Editor on many neuroscience, psychiatry and molecular journals, and has been invited to speak at many national and international meetings, including ones sponsored by the NIH, the World Health Organization, the College de France, the National Academy of Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor Research Institute and the Nobel Committee in Stockholm.

Most recently, Benes has used network association analyses to identify functional groups of genes that are involved in the regulation of the GABA cell phenotype in human postmortem hippocampus. Although both schizophrenics and bipolars show dysfunction of GABAergic interneurons, each disorder shows a completely different pattern of abnormal gene expression within this network of inter-related genes.

“It is truly a great honor to receive this award, particularly as someone who knew Dr. Cataldo very well,” said Benes. “She was an exceptionally kind and generous individual who contributed greatly to the collegial atmosphere in the Mailman Research Center. She was always ready to help one of her colleagues. Anne was a wonderful scientist who was an inspiration to both junior and senior scientists in the MRC community, particularly those who had the opportunity to work with her.”

The Anne M. Cataldo Excellence in Mentoring Award is given to a McLean researcher who has provided sponsorship, encouragement and support for the career and/or personal development of McLean faculty, trainees and students. It was established in 2010 by Peter Paskevich, MA, senior vice president of Research Administration, to honor the memory of his wife and her contributions to the McLean community.

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