Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD, is one of the scientists responsible for our current understanding of brain plasticity–the notion that the brain can change itself at any age. For nearly five decades, he and his colleagues have conducted seminal research defining the functional organization of the auditory and somatosensory nervous systems. Research on cortical plasticity conducted in his laboratory has greatly contributed to our current understanding of the phenomenology of brain plasticity across the human lifetime. Dr. Merzenich has received numerous prestigious awards and prizes for his research and holds nearly 100 patents for his work. He is a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. In 2016, Dr. Merzenich was awarded one of the world’s top neuroscience prizes, the Kavli Prize, for his achievements in the field of brain plasticity.
During the 1980s, initial models of a commercially successful cochlear implant (now distributed by Boston Scientific) were developed in his laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. Later, driven by a desire to bring scientific discoveries out of the laboratory and into the world at large, to help the most people possible, he extended the fruits of cortical plasticity research into the commercial world by co-founding three brain plasticity-based therapeutic software companies (Scientific Learning, Posit Science, and Brain Plasticity Institute). Those companies have developed and validated neuroscience-based, computer-delivered rehabilitation training programs that have now been applied to more than 4 million impaired children and adults. Their research and treatment targets include developmental impairments that limit the cognitive, reading, and mathematical abilities of school-aged children; perceptual and cognitive impairments in normal aging; preventing and treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and other psychiatric diseases; rehabilitation strategies applied to treat traumatic brain injury and stroke; and the treatment of cognitive impairments arising from brain infections, toxin exposures, hypoxic episodes, and other environmental causes.
Dr. Merzenich has published more than 150 articles in leading peer-reviewed journals (such as Science and Nature) and has received numerous awards and prizes (including the Russ Prize, Ipsen Prize, Zülch Prize, Thomas Alva Edison Patent Award Purkinje Medal and the Kavli Prize, for his achievements in the field of brain plasticity.) He and his work have been highlighted in hundreds of books about the brain, learning, rehabilitation, and plasticity. Dr. Merzenich’s work is also often covered in the popular press, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Forbes, Discover, and Newsweek. He has appeared extensively on television, and his work has been featured on four PBS specials, including “The Brain Fitness Program,” “Brain Fitness 2: Sight and Sound,” “The New Science of Learning,” and “Brain Fitness Frontiers.”
Dr. Merzenich earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Portland and his PhD at Johns Hopkins. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison before becoming a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. In 2007, he retired from his long career at UCSF as Francis A. Sooy Professor and Co-Director of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999 and the Institute of Medicine in 2008.
For further reading about Dr. Merzenich, you can read this autobiographical chapter from Volume X of History of Neuroscience.