University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Laura L. Hunt

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May 25, 2011 
UWM biologist wins Shaw Scientist Award

Christopher Quinn

Christopher Quinn, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), has been awarded one of two Shaw Scientist Awards given by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation for his work on how the nervous system develops.

Quinn focuses on the process in which axons – the long thin fibers of a nerve cell – form connections during development. Axons comprise the circuitry for the billions of neurons that carry out brain functions.

Photo by Alan Magayne-Roshak
Christopher Quinn
Christopher Quinn

His research aims to understand how genes and their proteins regulate neural development, especially within the growth cone, the structure that steers growth at the tip of each axon. The work is significant to public health because mutations in the guidance genes are associated with dyslexia, autism and mental retardation. 

The Shaw Scientist program awards two unrestricted $200,000 grants each year to scientists from UWM and UW-Madison who are working to advance important research in genetics, biology, biochemistry and cancer-related research. Yongna Xing, assistant professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, is the other recipient.

Using C. elegans, a transparent worm, as a model, Quinn has identified new genes that encode guidance proteins and is now trying to discover what they do and how they interact. He does that by removing the function of certain genes and then observing what goes wrong in the worm.  

“Using model organisms, we can identify more genes involved so that you have more targets to test when investigating human disease,” he says. “So we need to expand the knowledge of what the genes are involved in.”

Quinn, who joined the UWM faculty in 2010, earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in neurobiology from Yale University. He completed post graduate training in developmental genetics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Quinn has received a number of awards for his work, including the National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Supported by the James D. and Dorothy Shaw Fund, the Shaw Scientist Awards were created in 1982 and have provided more than $11 million to support UW research in the life sciences.