Ben Barres (1954-2017)

It is with great pleasure that we name the Chan Zuckerberg Early Career Acceleration Award in Neurodegenerative Disease in memory of Dr. Ben Barres.

Ben, through his research career and his life, embodied the spirit and the scientific aims of this Award.

Ben was a creative, passionate, and bold scientist. He was a pioneer and rebel on many fronts, and an inspiration to many. Ben’s work focused on neurodegeneration and the biology of glia — the nonneuronal cells that make up most cells in the brain. When he started his career, glial cells were viewed as the passive supporting cast for neurons. Almost single-handedly, Ben and his lab transformed our appreciation of glial cells and their importance for brain function and disease.

Ben doggedly challenged those around him to think differently not only about science, but also about the ways that members of the scientific community practice science and engage with each other. He was a fierce advocate for young scientists, women, mentorship, and diversity in science, values that the Chan Zuckerberg Neurodegeneration Challenge Network aspires to promote.

Ben also believed strongly in collaborations between clinicians and scientists. He began his career as a neurologist and often commented on how important his early clinical training was to his science. He was a passionate believer in the potential of basic science to fuel medical advances. Recognizing that most scientists do not receive adequate training in human biology and disease, he developed a Masters of Science in Medicine Program at Stanford to provide intense training in human biology and disease to PhD students.

Ben was involved in early discussions with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as we asked how we might advance the science of neurodegenerative diseases. We are sad that Ben won’t see the Chan Zuckerberg Neurodegeneration Challenge Network take shape, but we are deeply honored that we can join Stanford, Ben’s family, and Ben’s trainees in bringing Ben’s goals and values to the next generation through these awards to early-career scientists.

For more information on Ben, his life, career, and enduring legacy, we encourage you to read some of the many tributes to Ben from his colleagues and friends:


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