Making sense of scents

Apr 04, 2002, vol. 23, no. 7
By Roberta Staley

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Kensaku Mori makes sense of scents. In recognition of Mori's cutting-edge research in the area of olfaction (the science of the sense of smell), the Tokyo physiology professor is the recipient of the $25,000 Frank Allison Linville R.H. Wright Award for 2001.

Mori collaborated during the early 1980s with Gordon Shepherd, the recipient of the 1986 R.H. Wright Award.

Mori, who is also director and laboratory chief of Japan's world-renowned RIKEN Brain Science Institute, will receive the award in April at Simon Fraser University.

Although the award primarily recognizes his latest scientific breakthroughs, Mori has an extensive body of research dating back to his years as a graduate student in Tokyo and at Yale University. Over the years, Mori has focused his studies upon the olfactory bulb, which is a part of the brain.

Round and knob-like, this organ is larger in animals with an acute sense of smell, decreasing in relative size as the ability wanes. Over the years, Mori's research has provided a foundation for understanding the organization of the olfactory projection pathways - how different substances trigger nerve impulses that give the sensation of a smell and how this part of the brain develops.

Recently, Mori has launched a new series of experiments. He was able to visualize in adult mice newly generated nerve connections and sensory neurons in the olfactory bulb and olfactory epithelium, where the sensory cells are located. These animals allow Mori to follow the development of newly generated nerve cells and pathways through the life of the animal.
This research has important implications for understanding the function of the human brain and nervous system and the treatment of some neurological diseases.

Known for his modesty, Mori acknowledged the award with characteristic humility: “I am extremely honoured and pleased to be selected as the recipient of the award. I am looking forward to visiting your university.”
Mori will be at SFU lecturing on his findings during his visit in mid-April. The award presentation and a public lecture directed at non-specialists will be on April 16 in the Thompson room of the Diamond University Centre.

It will be followed by a public reception. A more specialized research seminar will be at the Halpern Centre, Room 126, on April 18.

The honour was established in 1984 by the late Frank Allison Linville in recognition of B.C. chemist Robert Wright's contributions to the understanding of the sense of smell. Winners are selected from the group of nominees by a governing committee consisting of the four most recent Wright award recipients.

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