2003: Friston


The Berkeley-based Minerva Foundation selected neurobiologist Karl Friston of University College London to receive its 2003 Golden Brain Award for work that helps to explain how the brain is organized.

Friston developed a mathematical method known as statistical parametric mapping (SPM) that is widely used by scientists to compare data collected using brain imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional resonance imaging.  PET and detect and measure changes in blood flow when cells in particular regions of the brain are especially active.  These techniques make it possible to determine what parts of the brain are actively engaged when humans undertake tasks such as hearing, seeing colors, or looking at faces.  Friston’s method associates imaging studies with specific areas of the brain in a way that permits researchers to compare different brains and, thus, reach more general conclusions about how the brain is organized.

"SPM has been used extensively to define areas of the brain concerned with vision.  For example, it was used to define the area that permits us to see Friston’s innovative methodology has helped us to infer connections in the human brain by learning what brain areas increase or decrease their activity simultaneously,” said the late Elwin Marg, who was the executive officer of the Minerva Foundation. “His work has had a major impact on extending our knowledge about how the brain functions, and may someday help us to understand and treat schizophrenia.”

Friston is a Wellcome Principal Research Fellow and scientific director of the Functional Imaging Laboratory, University College London, UK.  He is a professor in the Institute of Neurology and holds an honorary consultant post at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square London UK.  He was awarded the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping in 1996.  In 2000, he was president of the international Organization for Human Brain Mapping. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.