Laureates back in the spotlight

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Norway’s Nobel laureates in medicine, May-Britt and Edvard Moser, are receiving more international acclaim after being part of a team that’s discovered a new type of cell that registers brain speed. It’s another breakthrough that can contribute towards the battle against brain diseases like Alzheimer.

The Mosers are otherwise known for their informality, like here at a congratulatory reception in Trondheim, after they won the Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology in October. PHOTO: NTNU/Nancy Bazilchuk

May-Britt and Edvard Moser, known for their informality and ability to share their knowledge,, are now part of another breakthrough in brain research. PHOTO: NTNU/Nancy Bazilchuk

“It’s a big step forward,” Edvard Moser told Trondheim newspaper Adresseavisen on Thursday. The new discovery was made in cooperation with researchers Emilio Kropff and James Carmichael, and he described it as akin to finding a speedometer for the brain.

The Mosers, who have carried out research at NTNU (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Trondheim for years, won the Nobel Prize in medicine last year along with fellow researcher John O’Keefe of the US. Now they’re winning more recognition in some of the world’s most important scientific journals, with their new discovery published in the prestigious publication Nature.

Moser said he and his colleagues at NTNU’s Kavli Institute in Trondheim placed their test rats in a little, specially designed wagon that Moser described as a “Fred Flinstone car.” The rats propelled the wagon forward with their legs, attracted by something good to eat at the end of their path.

Experiments over the course of seven years with scores of rats revealed that they have “speed cells” that also help them know where they are. The researchers earlier found the cells that serve as a form of GPS in the brain, an orientation breakthrough that won the Mosers and O’Keefe the Nobel Prize. Now the discovery of the speed cells provides “the bit of the puzzle we needed in our research on sense of place,” Moser told Adresseavisen. The new cells found tell the cells found earlier how fast and in which direction the rats moved.

“What’s special about sense of place is that rat brains and human brains are very similar,” Moser told research website forskning.no. “We found that when the rat accelerates, the rat’s brain actively tries to predict where the rat will be 60 to 80 milliseconds forward in time.”

The latest discovery is also getting attention in both Nordic, British and US media, and firming up NTNU’s position as a top research insitution. “It’s important for NTNU and those who contribute money to research that the results are made as widely available as possible,” Moser told Adresseavisen. It doesn’t hurt that both he and his wife are also cheerful, down-to-earth professionals who have a unique means of making complicated research relatively understandable and relevant, in turn making them as well-liked as they are respected.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund