U of S alumnus receives UNESCO prize for popularization of science

René Raúl Drucker-Colín (PhD'71) a U of S alumnus and an eminent researcher who brought small doses of science to the general public in his home country of Mexico, is the winner of the 2011 UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science.

An ardent promoter of science, Drucker-Colín's work is regularly published in La Jornada, a leading Mexican daily, and he has participated in the science programming of Televisa, a national broadcaster, over the past 12 years. Speaking from Mexico City, Drucker-Colín said when he was vice-chancellor of science at National Autonomous University of Mexico, "it was necessary for me to promote science to society, to educate everyone on the public value of science. I created Small Doses of Science, two-minute pieces of news on interesting scientific findings."

Small Doses of Science grew from a piece on the university's radio station to a daily rush-hour science item airing on a popular Mexico City radio station and eventually was broadcast six to seven times per day on television. "It became part of Mexican life," said Drucker-Colín.

Drucker-Colín received his award from UNESCO in early January. Funded by the Kalinga Foundation and the Government of the State of Orissa in India, the prize recognizes contributions made in presenting science and technology to a general public. After earning a bachelor's degree from National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master's from Northern Illinois University, Drucker-Colín moved to the U of S where he received a doctorate in physiology in 1971. Since returning to Mexico, his neurological research has focused in two areas: sleep and wakefulness, specifically narcolepsy; and Parkinson's disease.
"We spend about one-third of our lives asleep," says Drucker-Colín, one of the founders of the Sleep Disorders Clinic in Mexico City.

"That's 20 years by the age of 60. So it's important to understand the transmitters and substances related to sleep." His work includes research on the loss of neurons that produce orexin, a protein responsible for controlling appetite and sleep patterns, and the possibility of its transplantation.

In the area of Parkinson's research, Drucker-Colín was involved in the first cell transplant to treat the disease almost 25 years ago. A neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson's symptoms occur when the cells in the brain stem produce less dopamine. "We can substitute lost cells with those that produce dopamine," he said. "Not all patients respond in the same way, but we are trying to find which type of cells are best to transplant."

The UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science includes a monetary award of $20,000. Prior winners include Bertrand Russell (1957), Julian Huxley (1953), Margaret Mead (1970) and David Suzuki (1986).

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