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Norris Foundation funds lab of Pharmacy’s Brinton

Roberta Diaz Brinton (center) joins Ron Barnes, executive director and trustee for Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, and foundation Chair Harlyne Norris at the lab’s renaming ceremony.

Photo: Jon Nalick

Roberta Diaz Brinton’s laboratory in the School of Pharmacy is now the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation Laboratory in Neuroscience Research, thanks to a generous gift from the foundation.

Brinton, an associate professor of molecular pharmacology and toxicology, carries on an active research program in neuroscience.

One research thrust involves the role of the hormone estrogen in maintaining brain function in peri- and post-menopausal women. She is also studying possible hormonal interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in older women.

Another active area is developing a drug therapy that may help children with learning disabilities frequently associated with pediatric diabetes insipidus, which is caused by a congenital inability to manufacture the hormone vasopressin.

The learning problems are believed to be caused when brain receptors for the hormone become desensitized by the vasopressin that is given as part of treatment for the disease.

Finally, Brinton has attracted international attention for her work culturing nerve cells on silicon chips for study and eventual possible use in neuroelectronic brain prostheses. She has carried on this work as part of an intercampus collaboration with Theodore Berger of the School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Brinton has also been involved for 11 years as director of the STAR (Science, Technology and Research) program. STAR offers high school juniors and seniors – most of them from HSC-adjacent Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet School – the opportunity to participate in responsible roles in real scientific research over an extended period of time. More than 300 students have participated during the years; many of them have entered college as listed authors on scientific papers.

Program alumni include Paola Barrientos, now in the USC BA-MD program; and Martha Melendez, who received her M.D. from UC, Irvine medical school and has gone on to specialize in women’s health, among many others.

At a June 24 dedication ceremony, Brinton thanked her benefactors and spoke about the phenomenon of memory, which ties together many of her research interests:

“It is a distinct honor to be associated with the Norris Foundation,” she said, “whose hallmark is a dedication to excellence in serving humankind through science education and community service.

Through the vision of the Norris Foundation trustees, particularly that of Harlyne Norris and Ron Barnes in supporting the research of my laboratory, the goals of the Norris Foundation are uniquely brought to life.

“When one looks behind and beyond my basic science research focusing on memory and dementia, what one sees is the essence of oneself and our relationship to our world.

“It is memory that remembers our favorite songs, our favorite times with loved ones, that remembers our successes and the failures that make us stronger. It is memory that records which experiments worked and which didn’t. So as we continue to discover the mechanisms of memory and those strategies for maintaining memory in the Norris Foundation Laboratory for Neuroscience Research, know that each day the Norris Foundation and particularly you, Harlyne and Ron, are remembered with gratitude for your vision and commitment to creating a community in which we all can remember who we are and who we can be.”

Norris Foundation funds lab of Pharmacy’s Brinton

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