Neurobiologist Nilay Yapici named Pew scholar

By: Linda B. Glaser,  A&S Communications
June 15, 2017

A Cornell researcher studying neural circuits that regulate hunger sensation and food intake has received a prestigious award from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nilay Yapici, assistant professor of neurobiology and behavior, Nancy and Peter Meinig Family Investigator in the Life Sciences and Adelson Sesquicentennial Fellow has been named a 2017 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. The award, given this year to 22 early career scientists, is intended to help these researchers investigate pressing global health problems. Yapici received a four-year, $240,000 grant.

“This grant will help facilitate our research in understanding how our brains regulate what we eat and lay the road to discover new strategies to treat obesity and eating disorders,” Yapici said.

Yapici’s research examines what produces the feeling of hunger – and why we consume more after fasting than we do when we are full. As a postdoctoral fellow, Yapici identified a dozen neurons that control how fruit flies respond to a meal. These neurons are activated in fasted flies as they ingest sugar water and decrease in activity when the flies become full. Now, using an array of techniques in genetics, engineering, neurophysiology and behavior, Yapici will identify the neurons that feed information to these “regulators of ingestion” and characterize the cellular and molecular connections that allow them to process information about hunger and satiety to induce feeding.

“We will use advanced imaging methods to monitor the neural activity across the entire brain of flies, both hungry and sated, as they make decisions about food,” said Yapici.

In addition to the monetary award, each year current Pew scholars come together to discuss their research and learn from peers in fields outside their own. These gatherings provide opportunities to engage with other top researchers, encouraging interdisciplinary collaborations and helping to identify new avenues of research, Yapici noted.

Yapici earned a B.A. in molecular biology and genetics from Bogazici University in Turkey and received a Ph.D. in neurobiology in 2008 at the University of Vienna. She completed her postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University in New York City before joining the Cornell faculty in 2016.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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