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January 2006 Issue

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Poland is 'Place to Be' for College of Medicine Fulbright Scholar

Published January 2006

Janusz Suszkiw, PhD, is one of four UC faculty members to receive a grant for the 2005-06 academic year from the U.S. government's prestigious Fulbright Program.

Fulbright awards allow faculty members to travel abroad for an extended period to pursue educational exchange opportunities that include lectures, advanced research and graduate study.

The Polish-born neuroscientist, a professor in the molecular and cellular physiology department in the College of Medicine, will do research in his homeland at the Nencki Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, and at the Gdansk Medical Academy.

The fact that he's going to Poland, says Dr. Suszkiw, who has already done sabbaticals at the world-renowned Max Planck Institute in Göttingen, Germany, and at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., is largely coincidental.

His area of research is in the causes of neuronal degeneration, compensatory phenomena and pharmacological interventions to lessen neurodegenerative changes in the brain, whether induced by toxins in the environment--lead poisoning in children, for example--or aging-related diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

And for sheer excellence of research in this field--especially new discoveries about the role of what are known as extracellular matrix metalloproteinases in development, neurodegeneration and brain repair--Poland is the place to be, he says.

Dr. Suszkiw, who came to the United States as a teenager, worked his way through school, earning his undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master's and doctorate in biochemistry at George Washington University, followed by postdoctoral training in neurobiology at Cornell University.

The son of a physician, Dr. Suszkiw says he always wanted to do biomedical research.

"I was always of a philosophical bent," he says. "As a kid, I wanted to know how the universe worked. But before understanding the universe, you have to try to figure out how the brain works, because that's what interprets the universe."

After being engaged in basic neurobiological studies, a personal experience with the ravages of Alzheimer's disease in his mother prompted Dr. Suszkiw to switch his research focus to neurodegenerative diseases.

Studying the mechanisms of neurodegeneration and brain repair, he says, is another way to learn how the normal brain works but, more important, it has the added advantage that it may lead to potential therapeutic applications.

Faculty members earn Fulbright grants through a competitive process overseen by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, which administers the program for the U.S. Department of State.

The other UC Fulbright recipients were Vanessa Kay Allen-Brown, associate professor in educational studies, who will go to Cairo University; Katharina Gerstenberger, associate professor in German studies, who toured throughout Germany last summer; and Daniel Oerther, assistant professor of environmental engineering, who will travel to the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Manipal, India.

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