Steve Prescott (Award in Pain Recipient) obtained his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from McGill University in 2005. His doctoral research focused on the investigation of pain processing using electrophysiology, pharmacology and cellular imaging. He did postdoctoral training in computational neuroscience at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies with Terry Sejnowski. In 2008 he set up his own lab at the University of Pittsburgh with the intent of combining a range of experimental and computational tools to investigate pain processing. In 2012 his lab moved to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Prescott was named a Mallinckrodt Scholar and has also received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator Award and an Ontario Early Researcher Award. He has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Trained as a clinician, experimentalist and theoretician, Prescott has a longstanding interest in the biophysics of information processing, especially in connection with neurological disease. His lab combines experiments (electrophysiology, optogenetics, calcium imaging, etc.) with computer simulations and mathematical analysis to uncover how changes in neuronal excitability and synaptic transmission affect neural coding. He is particularly interested in deciphering the nonlinear, systems-level basis for complex phenomena. In this context, his team has demonstrated how pathological changes in neuronal excitability implicated in neuropathic pain can arise through distinct molecular mechanisms; because multiple molecular changes that are individually sufficient to disrupt excitability are induced by nerve injury, no single molecular change is uniquely necessary for injury-induced excitability changes. This so-called degeneracy has important implications for choosing effective drug targets and may help explain why neuropathic pain is so difficult to treat. Moving forward, the lab is testing a theory of combinatorial coding, which posits that somatosensory information is encoded by the combination of cell types coactivated by different stimuli. They also study how neuronal excitability is homeostatically regulated and how distinct neural coding strategies are biophysically implemented.