UCL researcher wins Nobel prize after discovering the brain’s “GPS”
UCL’s Proffesor O’Keefe played with rats and picked up physiology’s top gong
A UCL professor has won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the brain’s inner ‘GPS ’.
Prof John O’Keefe shares the top gong with a married couple from Norway, Edvard and May-Britt Moser.
Researchers from UCL have now won this Nobel prize two years running.
The winners used rats to discover the positioning system in our brain that tells us where we are and how we get from one place to another.
The Nobel Assembly said: “The discoveries have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries:
How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”
Prof O’Keefe began his research over forty years ago and pockets a tidy £700,000 for picking up the award.
During animal testing, O’Keefe and the Mosers – who trained in his lab at UCL – noticed how certain brain cells were activated when rats were in particular places.
These ‘place cells’ are found in a part of the brain called the hippocampus.Together, the three discovered the brain was composed of a hexagonal grid that forms a coordinate system for spatial navigation.
The finding are likely to help explain why Alzheimer sufferers often do not understand their surroundings.
Professor O’Keefe said he was “totally delighted and thrilled” about winning the top gong and added: “UCL is a terrific place to do research”.