JUNE 16, 2006 | What does the sense of smell have to do with possible treatments for degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s? A University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher was recently recognized for work that may ultimately answer that question.
Abdallah Hayar, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences of the UAMS College of Medicine, received the Young Investigator Award for Research in Olfaction from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS). He is one of the newest faculty members at UAMS, arriving in January 2006.
“This is a wonderful honor for Dr. Hayar and I’m pleased to see him recognized,” said Gwen Childs, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine. “It is a special honor for any faculty member to receive one of their society’s highest awards, in this case recognizing that he is achieving at a very high level at an early period in his career. We see it as a special sign of talent, recognition and potential.”
Hayar’s work has focused on how neurons, or cells whose special job is to transmit and process information in the body, connect and communicate smell information in the olfactory bulb – the part of the brain that processes smells. Specifically, Hayar has monitored the electrical impulses that make up the communications between the neurons.
By testing how the neurons react to certain chemicals or stimuli, he and his collaborators have identified patterns in these impulses that offer clues to how the neurons communicate.
Hayar’s lab is in the UAMS Center for Translational Neuroscience, one of the few facilities in the nation devoted to quickly moving new treatments for conditions of the body’s nervous system from research to the patient. The center’s director said the addition of Hayar to the faculty fits into the center’s spirit of collaboration across various research disciplines.
“Dr. Hayar’s award justifies our decision to bring him here, illustrating that he is one of the leading scientists in his field and his work in sensory biology makes him ideal for collaboration with other disciplines,” said Edgar Garcia-Rill, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology and developmental sciences and the center’s director. “The types of neurons that he is studying are present in other processes, including pain, spinal cord injuries and sleep – three of the areas of study in the Center for Translational Neuroscience.”
Hayar said that understanding the workings of the part of the brain that handles the sensory information could well open new doors for other brain processes.
“The olfactory bulb has become an attractive model to show us how neurons communicate and connect with one another,” Hayar said. “My interest in this area was sparked by a series of dramatic breakthroughs over the past decade in our understanding of the organization and function of the peripheral olfactory system.
“These advances have set the stage to unravel the mechanisms of early sensory processing by bulbar circuits. In addition, there has been recently an increase of interest in olfactory dysfunction because the impairment of olfactory bulb seems to be associated with some neurodegenerative diseases.”
Hayar noted that in both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, neurons die. Using the processing of smell information to develop a model for neuron communication can be a step toward understanding what happens to the neurons in those neurodegenerative diseases, he said, and potentially finding new treatments.
“The purpose of my current and future research is to unravel the fundamental network mechanisms responsible for encoding and processing odor information,” Hayar said. “My long-term interests include using modern electrophysiological and imaging techniques to investigate important brain functions at the cellular level, in normal and pathological states.”
The AChemS is an international association that advances understanding of the senses of taste (gustation) and smell (olfaction). The AChemS Young Investigator Award, which includes $2,000, is awarded to “an emerging leader in the field of olfaction” whose doctorate degree was received in 1995 or later.
Before coming to UAMS, Hayar was previously a research assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.
A native of Lebanon, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the American University of Beirut before moving to France in 1991. There, Hayar earned a master’s degree in physiology and a doctorate in neuroscience (1996) from the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg.
From there, he moved to the United States and spent three years of postdoctoral training at the University of Virginia before going to the University of Maryland as a research assistant professor and then to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Links on This Page
Abdallah Hayar faculty listing: http://www.uams.edu/neuroscience_cellbiology/faculty/details.asp?id=79
Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences: http://www.uams.edu/neuroscience_cellbiology/
Center for Translational Neuroscience: http://www.uams.edu/ctn/