On Monday, October 6, Regis High School alumnus John O’Keefe was awarded a Nobel Prize along with Norwegian scientists May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser for their efforts to identify what has been coined the “inner GPS” of the brain that helps humans and animals navigate through the world.
These findings will help scientists understand more about how the brain works and can be used to help understand diseases such Alzheimer’s, where memory loss can make it difficult for individuals to navigate their environment.
Born in New York City in 1939 to immigrant Irish parents, Dr. O’Keefe attended Regis High School and graduated 1957. Following Regis, O’Keefe earned his undergraduate degree from City College of New York and a Ph.D. in physiological psychology at McGill University in Montreal. Postdoctoral training brought him to London, where he started his career as a researcher and professor. For over 40 years he has been trying to better understand the brain’s internal positioning system.
“I was interested in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which we already knew, even back then, was involved in some way in memory,” said Dr. O’Keefe in an interview with the BBC. “And what I found was, the hippocampus in animals is involved in a specific type of memory, spatial memory. I found cells, which became active when the animal went to a specific part of an environment and its neighboring cells became involved in another part of the environment. When you took these cells and put them together you ended up with a map.”
Click here to read more and view a video of Dr. O’Keefe discussing the significance of this award.