Richard Daneman

Richard Daneman has been designated the Milton E. Cassel Scholar for the 2017 class of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars. This special award honors the memory of a long-time President of the Rita Allen Foundation who passed away in 2004.

Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology

B.Sc., Biochemistry, McGill University
Ph.D., Developmental Biology, Stanford University

Project: How does the blood–brain barrier influence the activities of neurons in the brain?

Richard Daneman grew up in an academic family. His parents, a cognitive psychologist and a pediatric endocrinologist, sometimes enlisted him and his brother to serve as research subjects. From an early age, Daneman says, he was attracted to the “amazing adventure” of science: “I loved asking a question that had no answer and trying to work out different ways that you could solve a problem.” As an undergraduate, he got involved in projects to develop new laboratory techniques—to measure fine-scale pH changes within cells, and to analyze gene expression patterns in fruit flies.

Daneman conducted graduate work at Stanford University with Ben Barres, a neurobiologist known for research on glial cells, which make up a large proportion of cells in the nervous system but are vastly understudied. The Barres lab was an ideal setting for Daneman to pursue another overlooked aspect of the nervous system: the blood–brain barrier. He led studies to identify molecular signals that give blood vessels in the central nervous system their unique properties—unlike the “leaky” blood vessels in other tissues, they restrict the movement of toxins, pathogens and immune cells.

Daneman continued to focus on the blood–brain barrier during a fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, and is now pursuing multiple questions related to the barrier’s development and its breakdown in conditions of injury or disease. He recently discovered physiological processes within the brain’s blood vessels that could influence the function of neurons. The Rita Allen Foundation award will allow Daneman and his team to examine the role of the blood–brain barrier in brain functioning. “We think of blood vessels as these tubes that run through the brain,” he says. “But the idea that they have these dynamic physiological properties that can fine-tune and manipulate the [neural] circuits—we know nothing about that.”