Ben Barres

From Justapedia, unleashing the power of collective wisdom
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ben A. Barres
Dr. Ben Barres.jpg
Born(1954-09-13)September 13, 1954
DiedDecember 27, 2017(2017-12-27) (aged 63)
Alma materMassachusetts Institute of Technology (BS)
Dartmouth Medical School (MD)
Harvard Medical School (PhD)
Known forNeuroscience
Scientific career
InstitutionsStanford University
Doctoral advisorDavid Corey

Ben A. Barres (September 13, 1954 – December 27, 2017)[1] was an American neurobiologist at Stanford University.[2] His research focused on the interaction between neurons and glial cells in the nervous system. Beginning in 2008, he was chair of the Neurobiology Department at Stanford University School of Medicine. He transitioned to male in 1997, and became the first openly transgender scientist in the National Academy of Sciences in 2013.[3]

Early life and education

Barres was born on September 13, 1954, in West Orange, New Jersey, assigned female as Barbara A. Barres. As a child, his salesman father and homemaker mother saw him as a tomboy.[4] He later recalled: "Internally I felt strongly that I was a boy. This was evident in everything about my behavior."[5] Attending a West Orange school, Barres excelled in mathematics and science and was impressed by his eighth-grade teacher, Jeffrey Davis.[6][7]

At the age of 17, he learned that he had been born with Müllerian agenesis,[8] for which he received surgical correction. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1976), a medical degree (MD) from Dartmouth Medical School (1979), and a residency in neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine.[9] During his residency, Barres noted the lack of knowledge about the causes or cures of neurodegeneration. In studying pathology reports, he noticed a correlation between neural degeneration and irregular patterns of glial cells in the brain and, intrigued, resigned his residency to pursue research in neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.[10] He completed a PhD in neurobiology there in 1990, then did postdoctoral training at University College London under Martin Raff.[11] In 1993, Barres joined the faculty of Neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine. After transitioning to male in 1997,[12] Barres published on sexism in the sciences. In 2008, he was appointed to the Chair of Neurobiology at Stanford.[2]


Barres authored or co-authored papers in journals such as Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, Science, and Cell.[13] His research involved study of mammalian glial cells of the central nervous system (CNS), including the exploration of their function and development. Much of his early work was published under his birth name, Barbara.[14][15][16][17]

His first major discovery was how developing neurons provide signals to the myelinating glial cells called the oligodendrocytes that provide insulation on the axons.[14][15][18] Some of his earliest works focussed on vertebrate nervous system development, including how and why many neurons fail to survive shortly after forming connections with their targets. These studies investigated how this programmed cell death, apoptosis, occurred in such a tremendous scale.[19] Additionally, he studied processes such as the prerequisites for and consequences of axon myelination, and the interactions of various signaling molecules such as thyroid-hormone and retinoic acid within the formation of glial cells including oligodendrocytes.[20][21]

Early in his time at Stanford, Barres discovered the importance of glial cells in the formation, development, maturation, and regeneration of neurons.[14] His lab also discovered and developed methods for the purification and culturing of retinal ganglion cells and the glial cells with which they interact, including the oligodendrocytes and astrocytes of the optic nerve.[15][22]

Near the turn of the 21st century he continued his study of glial cells and the mechanisms behind their ability to generate new neurons. He studied control of synapses by glia, and the differentiation of astrocytes by endothelial cells. He investigated the role of the protein Id2 in the control of oligodendrocyte development and established that removing this protein led to premature oligodendrocyte maturation.[23]

In the 2010s Barres's research focused on using techniques such as immunopanning, immunohistochemistry, tissue culturing, and patch clamping to: 1) understand the cell-to-cell interactions in the developmental regulation of nodes of Ranvier and myelin sheaths; 2) determine to what extent glial cells play a role in synapse formation and function of synapses; 3) identify the signals that promote retinal ganglia growth and survival, and how such knowledge of these signals could be regenerated post-trauma; 4) identify the functions and developmental mechanisms of gray matter astrocytes. In these objectives, his lab discovered a number of novel glial signals for the induction of myelination, axonal sodium channel clustering, and synapse formation processes. Additionally, his lab characterized these processes and the exact identity of these novel signals.[13]

Experience of sexism

Barres described experiences of gender discrimination at an early age. While he was presenting as female prior to transitioning, he was denied at schools from science and mathematics courses, which he liked. It was a summer science course at Columbia University in New York City that enabled him to pursue further studies in science.[18] A more serious event happened to his academics in MIT. After solving a difficult math problem that stumped many male students, his professor charged that it was solved for him by a boyfriend.[24] He was the top student in the class, but found it hard to get a willing supervisor for research. He lost a scholarship to a man who had only one publication, while he already had six.[25] While earning a PhD at Harvard, he was told that he was to win a scientific competition, which was evidently between him and one man; the Dean confided to him, “I have read both applications, and it’s going to be you; your application is so much better.” But the award was given to the man, who dropped out of science a year later.[26]

After transitioning, he noticed that people who were not aware of his transgender status treated him with respect much more than when he presented as a woman.[27][28] After delivering his first seminar as a man, one scientist was overheard to comment, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but his work is much better than his sister’s [believing Barbara to be his sister] work.”[29] In 2012, he recollected the events of his sex change:[30]

When I decided to change sex 15 years ago I didn't have role models to point to. I thought that I had to decide between identity and career. I changed sex thinking my career might be over. The alternative choice I seriously contemplated at the time was suicide, as I could not go on as Barbara.

Barres was critical of economist Lawrence Summers and others who have claimed that one reason there are fewer women than men in science and engineering professorships might be that fewer women than men had the very high levels of "intrinsic aptitude" that such jobs required.[27] He spoke and wrote openly about being a trans man and his experiences transitioning gender identity in 1997,[31] and his experiences of being treated differently as a female scientist versus a male scientist.[32]


Barres died on December 27, 2017, some 20 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,[33] at his home in Palo Alto, California. He was survived by two sisters and a brother.[34][9]

In a recollection of his life, he said:

I lived life on my terms: I wanted to switch genders, and I did. I wanted to be a scientist, and I was. I wanted to study glia, and I did that too. I stood up for what I believed in and I like to think I made an impact, or at least opened the door for the impact to occur. I have zero regrets and I’m ready to die. I’ve truly had a great life.[18]

Awards and honors

Barres's research awards include a Life Sciences Research Fellowship, the Klingenstein Fellowship Award, a McKnight Investigator Award,[35] and a Searle Scholar Award. He has also won teaching awards: the Kaiser Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Kaiser Award for Innovative and Outstanding Contributions to Medical Education. In 2008 he received the Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award.[36] He is inducted member of the Reeve Foundation International Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury.[37] He is a co-founder of Annexon Biosciences, Inc., a company making drugs to block neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.[38] He became a member and elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011.[39] In 2013 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences,[40] becoming the first openly transgender member.[3] Along with biochemist Tom Jessell, he was awarded the Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2016 conference in San Diego.[41]

Key publications

Research articles


See also


  1. ^ "Neuroscientist Ben Barres, who identified crucial roles of glial cells, dies at 63". News Center. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Ben Barres Professor of Neurobiology, of Developmental Biology and of Neurology". Stanford School of Medicine. Archived from the original on October 18, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Goldman, Bruce (May 8, 2013). "Distinction with a difference: Transgender neurobiologist picked for National Academy of Science membership". Scope. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  4. ^ Miller, Kenneth (August 7, 2017). "The Brain of Ben Barres". Discover Magazine.
  5. ^ Freeman, Marc (2018). "Ben Barres: neuroscience pioneer, gender champion". Nature. 562 (7728): 492. Bibcode:2018Natur.562..492F. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-07109-2. PMID 30349130.
  6. ^ Krattenmaker, Tom (March 10, 1999). "The Highest Art". Princeton University. Archived from the original on January 7, 2003. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  7. ^ "A Conversation with Dr. Ben Barres". The Travis Roy Foundation. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  8. ^ Morgan, Jules (2019). "Coming out as a male scientist in a man's world" (PDF). The Lancet. 7 (4): 275–9. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.005. PMID 24139033.
  9. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (December 30, 2017). "Ben Barres, transgender brain researcher and advocate of diversity in science, dies at 63". The Washington Post.
  10. ^ Talan, Jamie (February 2018). "Neuroscientist Ben Barres, MD, PhD, Dies". Neurology Today. 18 (3): 23–24. doi:10.1097/01.nt.0000530605.40427.0b. ISSN 1533-7006. S2CID 80052009.
  11. ^ NIH, (Oct. 2008). Ben A. Barres, M.D., Ph.D. Archived March 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Waldrop, M. Mitchell (September 18, 2014). "Diversity: Pride in science". Nature News. 513 (7518): 297–300. Bibcode:2014Natur.513..297W. doi:10.1038/513297a. PMID 25230630.
  13. ^ a b "Ben Barres". Archived from the original on July 2, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Barres, Barbara A. (1991). "New roles for glia". The Journal of Neuroscience. 11 (12): 3685–3694. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.11-12-03685.1991. PMC 6575284. PMID 1720814.
  15. ^ a b c Barres, Barbara A.; Raff, M. C.; Gaese, F.; Bartke, I.; Dechant, G.; Barde, Y. A. (1994). "A crucial role for neurotrophin-3 in oligodendrocyte development". Nature. 367 (6461): 371–375. Bibcode:1994Natur.367..371B. doi:10.1038/367371a0. PMID 8114937. S2CID 4346673.
  16. ^ Ebens, A.; Brose, K.; Leonardo, E. D.; Hanson, M. G.; Bladt, F.; Birchmeier, C.; Barres, B. A.; Tessier-Lavigne, M. (1996). "Hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor is an axonal chemoattractant and a neurotrophic factor for spinal motor neurons". Neuron. 17 (6): 1157–1172. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(00)80247-0. PMID 8982163.
  17. ^ Pfrieger, F. W.; Barres, Barbara A. (1997). "Synaptic efficacy enhanced by glial cells in vitro". Science. 277 (5332): 1684–1687. doi:10.1126/science.277.5332.1684. PMID 9287225.
  18. ^ a b c Huberman, Andrew D. (2018). "Ben Barres (1954–2017)". Nature. 553 (7688): 282. Bibcode:2018Natur.553..282H. doi:10.1038/d41586-017-08964-1.
  19. ^ Raff, Martin C. (October 1993). "Programmed Cell Death and the Control of Cell Survival: Lessons from the Nervous System". Science. 262 (5134): 695–700. Bibcode:1993Sci...262..695R. doi:10.1126/science.8235590. PMID 8235590.
  20. ^ Barres, Ben (September 1994). "Axon myelination. Myelination without myelin-associated glycoprotein". Curr. Biol. 4 (9): 847–850. doi:10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00190-1. PMID 7529638. S2CID 26435915.
  21. ^ Barres, B. A.; Lazar, M. A.; Raff, M. C. (May 1994). "A novel role for thyroid hormone, glucocorticoids and retinoic acid in timing oligodendrocyte development". Development. 120 (5): 1097–1108. doi:10.1242/dev.120.5.1097. PMID 8026323.
  22. ^ Barres, B. A.; Raff, M. C. (1994). "Control of oligodendrocyte number in the developing rat optic nerve". Neuron. 12 (5): 935–942. doi:10.1016/0896-6273(94)90305-0. PMID 8185952. S2CID 44663938.
  23. ^ Wang, Songli; Sdrulla, Andrei; Johnson, Jane (March 2001). "A role for the helix-loop-helix protein Id2 in the control of oligodendrocyte development". Neuron. 29 (3): 603–614. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00237-9. PMID 11301021. S2CID 7978661.
  24. ^ Barres, Ben A. (July 12, 2006). "Does gender matter?". Nature. 442 (7099): 133–136. Bibcode:2006Natur.442..133B. doi:10.1038/442133a. PMID 16848004. S2CID 5211326.
  25. ^ Begley, Sharon (July 13, 2006). "He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  26. ^ Dean, Cornelia (July 18, 2006). "Dismissing 'Sexist Opinions' About Women's Place in Science". The New York Times. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  27. ^ a b Vedantam, Shankar (July 13, 2003). "Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  28. ^ Flegal, Katherine M. (August 21, 2022). "A Female Career in Research". Annual Review of Nutrition. 42 (1): annurev–nutr–062220-103411. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-062220-103411. ISSN 0199-9885. PMID 35363538. S2CID 247866328. Archived from the original on April 22, 2022. Retrieved April 22, 2022.
  29. ^ "Transgender Experience Led Stanford Scientist To Critique Gender Difference". ScienceDaily. July 14, 2006. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  30. ^ Maddox, Sam. "Barres Elected To National Academy of Sciences". Reeve Foundation. Archived from the original on October 16, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  31. ^ Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (2009) SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance p.47
  32. ^ Sharon Begley, (July 13, 2006). He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat. Archived January 21, 2016, at the Wayback Machine The Wall Street Journal
  33. ^ Goldman, Bruce (December 27, 2017). "Passing of a comet: Stanford neuroscientist Ben Barres dies at age 63". Stanford Medicine.
  34. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (December 29, 2017). "Ben Barres, Neuroscientist and Equal-Opportunity Advocate, Dies at 63". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Strobel, Gabrielle (2010). Research Funding in Neuroscience: A Profile of the McKnight Endowment Fund. Academic Press. pp. 77–. ISBN 9780080466538.
  36. ^ Bates, Mary (February 27, 2013). "Ben Barres: Glial Detective". Society for Neuroscience.
  37. ^ Maddox, Sam. "Stanford Scientist Ben Barres Joins Reeve Research Consortium". Reev Foundation. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  38. ^ "Annexon Biosciences Closes $44 Million Series B Financing". businesswire. June 23, 2016. Retrieved May 6, 2020.
  39. ^ AAAS staff (December 6, 2011). "AAAS Members Elected as Fellows". AAAS. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  40. ^ "National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  41. ^ "Ben Barres and Thomas Jessell Receive the Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience". Society for Neuroscience. November 8, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2017.

External links

  • "Some Reflections on the Dearth of Women in Science" (Video). Talk. Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall, Harvard. March 17, 2008. Archived from the original on December 19, 2021.
  • "Ben Barres". Web of Stories. Tells his life story
  • "How to Pick a Graduate Advisor" (Video). Ibiology. iBiology magazine. 2014. Ben Barres gives advice on how to pick a graduate advisor. He strongly suggests picking an advisor who is not only a good scientist, but also a good mentor. In this talk, he describes a mentor’s qualities and attributes, and gives suggestions on how to identify an advisor who will be a good mentor.