Inside a Neuroscientist’s Mindby Tony Brown, BA, EMT | March 13, 2006
Martin Raff, trained in physics, clinical immunology, and clinical neurology before becoming a neuroscientist researcher, delivers a fascinating discussion about his work and the future directions in neuroscience.
Martin Raff of University College, London likes to tackle the large questions of mammalian neurology. He enjoys, demystifying the regulation of neural development and using immunology, developmental neurobiology and cell biology as his tools. How is size regulated? What controls cellular differentiation? How is cellular diversity specified? These are the questions that occupy Raff’s mind.
He discusses what he calls his “major contribution to science,” the use of antibodies as tools to identify and manipulate cells. He was also a pioneer in using transcription factors to accomplish the same goal. Raff made these contributions despite being a late-comer to research. He attended medical school in Britain, afterwards going into internal medicine to practice as a clinical immunologist. After answering a few big questions, he decided to “leave the details to future researchers” and move on to retrain himself in the increasingly advancing field of clinical neurology. After completing that training, a colleague, citing Raff’s superior analytical ability suggested the field of academic research. Two years later, after completing a research fellowship, he was a neuroscience researcher.
Dr. Raff is fascinated by the fact that neuroscience seems to know much more about neural patterning than size control. “Patterning,” he says, “tells us where the nose on our face will grow while size control tells us how big it will grow.” He marvels that scientists seem to have skipped over the easier question of size control, calling it “an accident of history.” The topic that baffles Dr. Raff even more is the neurochemical basis of personality. He hopes that one day, someone will validate his suspicion that neuropeptides variety explains the “peculiar attitudes of some of our colleagues,”and anxiety or optimism in others.
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