University neuroscience researcher Huda Akil will join the ranks of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and Alexander Graham Bell with her recent invitation into the elite National Academy of Sciences for her groundbreaking discoveries related to sensory experiences and emotions.
Akil — who serves as co-director of the University’s Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute and was named the Gardner C. Quarton Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences in the Department of Psychiatry at the University’s Medical School — has been researching how brains biologically process pain, depression, stress and substance abuse. She will be among 72 other researchers granted membership to the NAS program next April
Akil said the University has greatly aided her and her team by supporting their endeavor to identify and develop research involving the use of endorphins to actively inhibit pain.
“My home department, psychiatry, has been generous to us in many ways, including supporting our quest for understanding fundamental brain biology even when it was unclear how it would have clinical implications,” Akil said.
Currently, Akil co-directs the University’s branch of the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Research Consortium — an association dedicated to finding genes and neurobiological processes that may cause psychological disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Akil elaborated on her ongoing research, which attempts to develop increased collaboration between biological research of brain-related disorders and clinical applications of the findings.
“Throughout my career, I have been interested in how the fundamental knowledge that we acquire about the brain might be used to help people who are suffering from brain-related disorders,” Akil said. “I believe that there is no greater burden on us humans than when our brains are not functioning well — regardless of whether this affects our senses, our movements, our thoughts or our feelings.”
While Akil said she is proud of her contributions to the research, she would also like to share the credit of her election to NAS with her fellow researchers.
“I am very honored by this election, but I am also very mindful of the fact that there are many other scientists at the (University) and beyond who are equally deserving of it,” she said. “I also am very grateful to many people who really own a big part of it … I feel that I am simply representing a great scientific team that brings together people from all parts of the world working together towards common goals.”
Akil said that beyond the accomplishment of her invitation into the NAS, she views the experience as an opportunity to extend her research to a broader scientific community and to the general public.
“In the end, the greatest reward possible would be that our discoveries will actually help real people improve their lives and alleviate their suffering,” she said.
Ian Demsky, University of Michigan Health System spokesman, said in addition to her induction into the NAS next April in Washington, D.C., Akil will also be honored at the Institute of Medicine reception on the University campus in late fall, and that she will receive further recognition at the Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.