Allen Institute Appoints Mount Sinai Neuroscientist as a Next Generation Leader
Kanaka Rajan, PhD, joins advisory committee of early-career researchers
The Allen Institute has selected Kanaka Rajan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at The Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, for its 2021 Next Generation Leaders Council. She and five other newly named early-career researchers will spend three years advising the Allen Institute on its neuroscience research efforts. The Allen Institute, a nonprofit research organization founded by the late philanthropist and visionary Paul G. Allen, is recognized as a leader in large-scale research in the biosciences with a commitment to open science.
“The Allen Institute is at the forefront of mapping the neural circuits that guide our understanding of the brain, and is a leader in building inclusive scientific cultures,” said Dr. Rajan. “I look forward to helping guide their mission to both push the frontiers of neuroscience, and to create a work environment where diverse individuals feel respected and valued.”
Dr. Rajan is a computational neuroscientist and neurotheorist. Her research applies computational frameworks derived from machine learning, statistical physics, and experimental and clinical data collected from the brains of a variety of species—ranging from worms, larval zebrafish, rodents, and nonhuman primates to human patients—to reveal key operating principles of brain function and guide further experimentation. Since being recruited to Mount Sinai in 2018, Dr. Rajan has initiated an ambitious, innovative, and collaborative research program that involves looking for foundational principles from small, well-sampled and therefore more tractable systems, and then using those principles and insights to guide how to systematically scale up to models based on data acquired from larger, and therefore less granular and less densely sampled, nervous systems. An approach like hers aims to uncover integrative theories about the brain that bridge neurobiology and artificial intelligence—steps critical for paving new directions for discovery during this time of rapid and expansive data collection.
The Allen Institute launched the Next Generation Leaders program eight years ago. Each year, through a competitive process that involves applications from around the world, the institute selects six postdoctoral fellows or early-career neuroscience researchers to serve three-year terms on an 18-member advisory council. Council members provide guidance on the institute’s neuroscience research efforts, namely the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the MindScope Program, and the newly launched Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics. In addition, the program provides the new leaders with the scientific advisory council training, networking opportunities, and peer support that traditionally have only been experienced by researchers who are more advanced in their careers.
“These emerging scientists represent the future of our field, and I’m excited for the opportunity we have to learn about their work and for them to infuse new perspectives into our work,” said Saskia de Vries, PhD, Associate Investigator in the MindScope Program and co-chair of the Next Generation Leaders Committee along with Trygve Bakken, MD, PhD, Assistant Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. “I’m also inspired by how all the members engage in the broader scientific community and I hope that we will be able to partner and learn from them in that work as well.”
In addition to being selected as an Allen Institute Next Generation Leader, Dr. Rajan has received other prestigious awards, notably the 2021 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the 2021 Harold and Golden Lamport Basic Science Research Award, the 2019 Sloan Research Fellowship, the 2016 Understanding Human Cognition Scholar award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and the 2014 NARSAD Young Investigator Award. These recognitions underscore Dr. Rajan’s record of academic and research excellence that contribute to her position as a leader in her field.
The Next Generation Leaders council will convene at this year’s Showcase Symposium on December 7 and 8, where Dr. Rajan and the 2021 cohort will give presentations on their work and meet with Allen Institute researchers.
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai advances medicine and health through unrivaled education and translational research and discovery to deliver care that is the safest, highest-quality, most accessible and equitable, and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 415 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the top 20 U.S. hospitals and is top in the nation by specialty: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” among the country’s best in four out of 10 pediatric specialties. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools," aligned with a U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" Hospital, and No. 14 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding. Newsweek’s “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals” ranks The Mount Sinai Hospital as No. 1 in New York and in the top five globally, and Mount Sinai Morningside in the top 20 globally.