NO. 19

Forging brain connections: Carla Shatz

Neurobiologist Carla Shatz works to rejuvenate ailing brains and to create synergies among good ones


Carla Shatz became a neurobiologist in part out of empathy for her grandmother, who suffered a stroke in Shatz’s childhood and lost ability to function.

Today, as a professor of biology and of neurobiology, Shatz works to restore brainpower at a molecular level so that people with stroke, Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injury can one day escape similar devastation. As the David Starr Jordan Director of Stanford Bio-X, Shatz also leads a larger initiative to amplify Stanford’s research power by uniting its scientists in interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle life sciences’ toughest problems.

Shatz restored the ability of adult neurons in laboratory mice to form new connections in the brain, long after the normal window for many kinds of learning has passed. Translated eventually to humans, her findings could help adults recover from stroke and blindness or halt the loss of brain connections in Alzheimer’s disease. In June 2015, Shatz’s research into how brain circuits form was honored with a share of the $500,000 Gruber Foundation Neuroscience Prize.

In this TEDxStanford video, Shatz explains how she discovered a molecular therapy that fostered growth of new brain synapses in mice.

Maja Djurisic
Maja Djurisic

Scores of other health care solutions take form at Stanford Bio-X, which links the schools of Medicine, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences, among others, to yield fundamental knowledge about the human body, new ways to treat disease and new companies to disseminate the innovations. Bio-X is housed in the acclaimed Clark Center, purpose-built for interdisciplinarity with sweeping lines that dissolve the walls between labs, people and ideas. The support that Shatz and Bio-X have devised there for research synergies – from seed funding to mentorship to lab design – is now a model for similar collaborations throughout Stanford and nationwide.