2002 Donald O. Hebb Distinguished Contribution Award Winner
Dr. Bryan Kolb
Bryan Kolb grew up in Calgary and obtained his first two degrees at the University of Calgary. He then completed a Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University with Michael Warren, a pioneer in the study of the origins of neural substrates of human behaviour. Postdoctoral fellowships then followed with Case Vanderwolf at the University of Western Ontario and with Brenda Milner at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Since then, he has been a member of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge, and an adjunct professor at the Universities of Calgary and British Columbia. He has been a Killam Fellow in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and currently holds a University of Lethbridge Board of Governors Chair. His research has been consistently supported by NSERC, MRC, and AHFMR. Throughout his career, he has published over 180 articles in top-flight journals, three books, and many invited chapters. Dr. Kolb's major research achievement has been to apply a broadly based and effective comparative approach to the study of human brain functioning. Traditionally, investigators have focused on either human patients or laboratory animals with brain injuries. Kolb is one of the very few scientists who study parallel functions in humans and nonhuman subjects using state-of-the-art techniques in both instances. The power of this approach is well demonstrated in his textbook co-authored with Ian Whishaw, Fundamentals of Human Neuropsychology that is now in its 4th edition. This book has redefined the nature of research in this area. It achieved two major objectives: it was the first comprehensive textbook devoted to the function of the human brain, and it provided a conceptual framework whereby investigators using nonhuman species can bring their work to bear on human brain functions.
Two fundamental questions are at the focus of Kolb's research programme. First, what is the nature of localization of function in different regions of the mammalian cortex? Second, how does this functional organization in the neocortex change after brain injury and, more important, what is the neural basis for this change? In the course of this work, Kolb developed novel techniques to study cross-species behaviours. Thus, when he turned his attention to humans in 1975, he was able to take the results of his animal experiments and apply the technology he had developed directly to the study of species-typical behaviour in humans, such as the production and perception of facial expression. The results were striking. He was able to demonstrate similarities between the effects of frontal cortex damage in rodents, cats, and humans and to quantify these changes in affective behaviour in human neurological patients. Laboratories across the world are now employing these techniques.
This line of research received new impetus in a study which revealed that, although learning abilities were spared after neonatal frontal cortex lesions, species-specific behaviours, such as nest building, food-storing, and caring for offspring, was permanently impaired. More important, this was the first work to show that injury to the cortex in infancy results in a smaller adult brain and thinner adult neocortex. By examining CT scans in brain-injured human infants, Kolb has confirmed that brain shrinking after infant injury is, again, a cross-species phenomenon.
In a series of more recent papers, Kolb has pursued the question of how a smaller brain can mediate spared learned behaviour. He has also pursued the question of precisely how brain damage shrinks the brain and how the brain compensates for injury. These lines of research have shown that the neonatal brain is plastic in the sense that it can compensate for injury. Compensation is permitted in spite of brain shrinkage and appears to be dependent upon the development of greater cell complexity and new connections between cells. Among the most exciting of Kolb's discoveries is the finding that, after lesions in infancy, the injured parts of the rats' brains appear to fill in. What is especially important about the filling-in phenomenon is that it appears to defy the accepted dogma that new brain cells cannot emerge in the neocortex after birth. Only a few years ago, the question of new cell growth would have seemed preposterous. Kolb and his co-workers, however, are showing that stem cells can indeed be induced to grow into neurons and glial cells in vitro. The possibility that they can be induced to do so in the adult brain no longer seems impossible.
In addition to enhancing Canada's scientific prominence on the world's stage, Kolb has served the Canadian academic community unselfishly in scientific advocacy and in the shaping of national science policy. He has served on the Psychology: Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science Grants Selection Committee (GSC-12) of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada on two occasions, once as Committee Chair. He is currently one of the Group Chairs for the Biological Science GSCs. He has chaired the NSERC GCS-12 Reallocations Report Committee on two occasions. He has served on the Behavioural Neuroscience Committee of the Medical Research Council of Canada and on various selection committees of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. He has been active in national and international societies, serving as the President of the Canadian Society of Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Science (SCBBCS) and as the co-chair of the Spring Conference of Brain and Behaviour for most of the past 20 years. On the international scene, he has served on the committee for The Society of Neuroscience, The Winter Conference on Brain Research, The Winter Conference on Learning and Memory, and the International Neuropsychology Society. He is currently on the editorial board of no less than ten international journals.
In summary, this internationally recognized scientist has done, and continues to do the best and most exciting work on brain regeneration and functional recovery in the country. His work is carefully thought out and designed, and has provided answers to the critically important questions of cortical organization, neural plasticity, recovery, and regeneration. That he has been able to do all this exciting work and achieve such international visibility while working at a small university in southern Alberta makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable. As one of our country's leading scientists, Bryan Kolb richly deserves this award and the knowledge that his colleagues recognize and value his accomplishments. Awarding this prize to a recipient such as Kolb brings credit to CSBBCS, and helps establish the significance of the Hebb Award within the broader scientific community.