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Allen Institute’s Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D., receives prestigious Pradel Research Award from National Academy of Sciences

Zeng’s research to decipher the various cell types and connections in the brain drives progress in the field.


3 min read

The National Academy of Sciences has awarded Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D., with the 2023 Pradel Research Award for her seminal work in deepening science’s understanding of cell types and connections in the mammalian brain and leading the development of neuroscience tools and open data resources that catalyze global research. The Pradel Research Award recognizes major contributions to our understanding of the nervous system. Zeng is the Executive Vice President and Director of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, a division of the Allen Institute, and a leading expert in molecular neuroscience, cell type diversity, and neuroanatomy.

Asian female and male in double boxes on screen doing an interview
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“I am deeply honored to receive this distinguished award from the National Academy of Sciences. It’s a prominent recognition of the groundbreaking team science and open science work we do at the Allen Institute that is making a huge impact on science and society,” said Zeng. “I feel deeply indebted to my Allen Institute colleagues and our founders for doing extraordinary research together and making everything possible.”

Zeng joined the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2006, led its Structured Science Division from 2016 to 2020, and became its Executive Vice President and Director in 2020. She has organized and led multidisciplinary teams to develop and operate high-throughput pipelines to generate large-scale, open-access datasets and tools to accelerate neuroscience discovery, with a focus on characterizing the cell type and circuit organization in the mouse brain as the foundation for understanding brain function and diseases.

Hongkui Zeng listening to a scientist inside a laboratory
Hongkui Zeng, Executive Vice President, Director of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, with Research Associate Jazmin Campos in the lab.

Since joining the Allen Institute, she has led several key research programs including the Transgenic Technology program (gene modification); the Human Cortex Gene Survey project; the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas (mapping connections between different regions of the mouse brain), one of the Allen Insitute’s most widely downloaded and used open-data resources; and most notably, the Cell Types program to create transcriptomic (gene expression) and multimodal cell type classifications that have been widely regarded as high-quality standards in the field.

“Hongkui’s work has transformed our understanding of the brain. Her bold leadership of a large-scale project to define all the different types of cells that constitute the brain has changed the field of neuroscience, laying the groundwork for understanding which cells mediate processes like memory and decision-making, but also which cells go awry in different diseases,” said Rui Costa, D.V.M., Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Institute. “Furthermore, Hongkui’s unwavering commitment to collaboration and open access brings this knowledge to the entire scientific community.”

Zeng received her Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Brandeis University. Then as a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she studied the molecular and synaptic mechanisms underlying brain plasticity and learning. Her current research interests are in understanding neuronal diversity and connectivity in the mouse brain-wide circuits and how different types of neurons work together to process and transform information.

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