Ellen Hoffman, an assistant professor in the Yale Child Study Center, last month received the second-ever Spector Award, which recognizes excellent work by junior researchers at Yale in the field of neuroscience.

Reynold Spector MED ’66 and his wife Michiko Spector established a $1-million fund in late 2017 to support the education and training of junior faculty members in the School of Medicine and to prompt new discoveries in neuroscience by promising young investigators. Michael Higley, an associate professor in neuroscience, received the award last year.

Hoffman’s research uses zebrafish as a model system to study the function of genes involved in autism spectrum disorders. She said her research will benefit greatly from the award.

“[The fund] will allow me to take my research in new directions,” Hoffman said. “It’s very important to have awards like this to support junior faculty like myself.”

Hoffman said one new area she now will be able to pursue is functional imaging to identify the neural circuit deficits that are caused by loss of autism risk gene function.

After receiving his doctor of medicine from Yale School of Medicine in 1966, Spector taught at the University of Iowa, Harvard-MIT, Stanford and now the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. Spector also served as executive vice president of the pharmaceutical company Merck from 1987 to 1999, overseeing the development of multiple drugs and vaccines.

“[The Spectors] are very interested in the neurosciences,” said Robert Alpern, dean of the School of Medicine. “Reynold got his M.D. here, and all of our medical students are required to do medical research — his was in neuropathology. He wanted to give back to Yale, and he wanted to do it in a way that was meaningful to him.”

According to Michael Crair, professor of neuroscience and deputy dean for scientific affairs, the funds associated with the award allow recipients to purchase equipment, hire additional postdoctoral fellows and research technicians and pursue other methods to improve their research. Crair said that additional resources such as these could allow recipients to make discoveries that otherwise would not have been possible.

Alpern praised the award for giving junior faculty members, who generally find it more difficult to receive research grants than senior faculty members, a means of conducting important research and jumpstarting their careers.

“[The award] is a nice recognition by the academic community at the School of Medicine and by the Spectors, of the academic promise of one of our junior faculty,” Crair said in an email to the News. “It is wonderful for our young colleagues to be recognized for what they have already accomplished and also to get the additional vote of confidence for their potential future accomplishments through this award.”

The award is also a testament to the strength and importance of the field of neuroscience for the University, Crair said. He added that neuroscience is a rapidly evolving field full of mysteries, and he expressed joy that such outstanding young scientists are interested in understanding how the brain works.

The Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman Yale Scholar Award and the Robert T. McCluskey, M.D., Yale Scholar Award also support the research of outstanding junior faculty at the Medical School.

Eui Young Kim | euiyoung.kim@yale.edu