Ben Barres

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ben A. Barres
Dr. Ben Barres.jpg
Barbara Barres

(1954-09-13)September 13, 1954
DiedDecember 27, 2017(2017-12-27) (aged 63)
Alma mater
Known forNeuroscience
Gender discrimination
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[edit]

Barres was born in West Orange, New Jersey, and was assigned female. His father was a salesman while his mother was a homemaker.[4] As a child, his parents simply saw him as a tomboy.[4] Attending a West Orange school, he excelled in mathematics and science and was impressed by his eighth-grade teacher, Jeffrey Davis.[5][6] He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1976),[7] a medical degree (MD) from Dartmouth Medical School (1979),[7] neurology residency training at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a doctorate (PhD) in Neurobiology (1990)[7] from Harvard University.[8] He did his postdoctoral training at University College London under Martin Raff. In 1993, he joined the faculty of Neurobiology at the Stanford School of Medicine. In 1997,[9] he transitioned to male, and has published on sexism in the sciences. In 2008, he was appointed to the Chair of Neurobiology.[2]


Barres joined the neurobiology faculty at Stanford University in 1993. His academic appointments included Professor of Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and (by courtesy) of Ophthalmology. He became a member of the Bio-X institute, member of the Child Health Research Institute, member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, and a faculty fellow of the Stanford ChEM-H. He was appointed as the chair of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2008.

Barres authored or co-authored over 160 publications. His studies were published in journals such as Nature Neuroscience and Cell.[10]

His research involved studying mammalian glial cells of the central nervous system (CNS), including the exploration of their function and development.

Some of his earliest work studied 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.[11] 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.[12][13]

Near the turn of the 21st century he continued his studies 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, primarily by allowing these glia to differentiate at properly regulated times, and established that removing this protein led to premature oligodendrocyte maturation.[14]

These early investigations established Barres's reputation in the study of glial cells. Barres discovered early in his time at Stanford the importance of glial cells in the formation, development, maturation, and regeneration of neurons.[citation needed] Additionally he determined glial cells' role in their ability to go beyond nurturing neurons, rather destroying them instead.[citation needed] His lab also discovered and developed methods for the purification and culturing of retinal ganglion cells and the glial cells in which they interact, including the oligodendrocytes and astrocytes of the optic nerve.[citation needed]

In the 2010s Barres's research focused on using techniques such as immunopanning, immunohisochemistry, 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 has characterized these processes and the exact identity of these novel signals.[15]

Experience of sexism[edit]

Barres described experiences of gender discrimination 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19] 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.”[20] In 2012, he recollected the events of his sex change as:[21]

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 identify 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.[19] He speaks and writes openly about being a trans man and his experiences transitioning gender identity in 1997,[22] and his experiences of being treated differently as a female scientist versus a male scientist.[23]

Barres directed a series of "open questions" to Steven Pinker and Harvey Mansfield in a formal address at Harvard, challenging the data supporting their arguments.[24]


Barres died on 27 December 2017, some 20 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,[25] at his home in Palo Alto, California and was survived by two sisters, Jeanne and Peggy and a brother, Donald.[7][26] His death was announced by Stanford University.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

Barres' research awards include a Life Sciences Research Fellowship, the Klingenstein Fellowship Award, a McKnight Investigator Award,[27] 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.[28] He is inducted member of the Reeve Foundation International Research Consortium on Spinal Cord Injury.[29] He is a co-founder of Annexon Biosciences, Inc., a company making drugs to block neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases.[30] He is member and elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011.[31] In 2013 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences,[32] 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.[33]


  • Knowland, Daniel; Arac, Ahmet; Sekiguchi, Kohei J.; Hsu, Martin; Lutz, Sarah E.; Perrino, John; Steinberg, Gary K.; Barres, Ben A.; Nimmerjahn, Axel; Agalliu, Dritan (2014). "Stepwise Recruitment of Transcellular and Paracellular Pathways Underlies Blood-Brain Barrier Breakdown in Stroke". Neuron. 82 (3): 603–617. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2014.03.003. PMC 4016169. PMID 24746419.
  • Barres, Ben A. (2013). "How to Pick a Graduate Advisor". Neuron. 80 (2): 275–279. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.005.
  • Schafer, Dorothy P.; Lehrman, Emily K.; Kautzman, Amanda G.; Koyama, Ryuta; Mardinly, Alan R.; Yamasaki, Ryo; Ransohoff, Richard M.; Greenberg, Michael E.; Barres, Ben A.; Stevens, Beth (2012). "Microglia Sculpt Postnatal Neural Circuits in an Activity and Complement-Dependent Manner". Neuron. 74 (4): 691–705. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.03.026. PMC 3528177. PMID 22632727.
  • Foo, Lynette C.; Allen, Nicola J.; Bushong, Eric A.; Ventura, P. Britten; Chung, Won-Suk; Zhou, Lu; Cahoy, John D.; Daneman, Richard; Zong, Hui; Ellisman, Mark H.; Barres, Ben A. (2011). "Development of a Method for the Purification and Culture of Rodent Astrocytes". Neuron. 71 (5): 799–811. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2011.07.022. PMC 3172573. PMID 21903074.
  • Dugas, Jason C.; Cuellar, Trinna L.; Scholze, Anja; Ason, Brandon; Ibrahim, Adiljan; Emery, Ben; Zamanian, Jennifer L.; Foo, Lynette C.; McManus, Michael T.; Barres, Ben A. (2010). "Dicer1 and miR-219 Are Required for Normal Oligodendrocyte Differentiation and Myelination". Neuron. 65 (5): 597–611. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.027. PMC 2843397. PMID 20223197.
  • Barres, Ben A. (2010). "Neuro Nonsense". PLoS Biology. 8 (12): e1001005. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001005.
  • Barres, B (2008). "The Mystery and Magic of Glia: A Perspective on Their Roles in Health and Disease". Neuron. 60 (3): 430–440. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2008.10.013. ISSN 0896-6273. PMID 18995817.
  • Barres, Ben A. (2006). "Does gender matter?". Nature. 442 (7099): 133–136. doi:10.1038/442133a. PMID 16848004.
  • Barres, BA (2005). "Arrogance imperils plans for change at Harvard". Nature. 434 (7034): 697. doi:10.1038/434697a. PMID 15815603.
  • Barres, Ben A; Yves-Alain Barde (2000). "Neuronal and glial cell biology". Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 10 (5): 642–648. doi:10.1016/S0959-4388(00)00134-3. ISSN 0959-4388.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Neuroscientist Ben Barres, who identified crucial roles of glial cells, dies at 63". News Center. Retrieved 2017-12-28.
  2. ^ a b "Ben Barres Professor of Neurobiology, of Developmental Biology and of Neurology". Stanford School o0f Medicine. Archived from the original on 2014-10-18. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  3. ^ a b Trans News Editors (11 May 2013). "Neurobiologist Becomes First Transgender Scientist Selected For U.S. National Academy of Science Membership". Transnews. Trans Media Network. Retrieved 11 October 2014.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b Miller, Kenneth (7 August 2017). "The Brain of Ben Barres". Discover Magazine.
  5. ^ Krattenmaker, Tom (10 March 1999). "The Highest Art". Princeton University. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  6. ^ "A Conversation with Dr. Ben Barres". The Travis Roy Foundation. Archived from the original on 2015-09-06. Retrieved 3 July 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d e Schudel, Matt (30 December 2017). "Ben Barres, transgender brain researcher and advocate of diversity in science, dies at 63". The Washington Post.
  8. ^ NIH, (Oct. 2008). Ben A. Barres, M.D., Ph.D. Archived 2011-03-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Ben Barres | Stanford Medicine Profiles". Archived from the original on 2016-07-02. Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  11. ^ Raff, Martin C. (October 1993). "Programmed Cell Death and the Control of Cell Survival: Lessons from the Nervous System". Science. 262: 695–700. doi:10.1126/science.8235590.
  12. ^ Barres, Ben (Sep 1994). "Axon myelination. Myelination without myelin-associated glycoprotein". Curr. Biol. 9: 847–850. doi:10.1016/s0960-9822(00)00190-1.
  13. ^ "A novel role for thyroid hormone, glucocorticoids and retinoic acid in timing oligodendrocyte development". Development. 120: 1097–1108. May 1994.
  14. ^ 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: 603–614. doi:10.1016/s0896-6273(01)00237-9 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  15. ^ "Ben Barres | Stanford Medicine Profiles". Retrieved 2017-11-28.
  16. ^ Barres, Ben A. (2006-07-12). "Does gender matter?". Nature. 442 (7099): 133–136. doi:10.1038/442133a. PMID 16848004.
  17. ^ Begley, Sharon (13 July 2006). "He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  18. ^ Dean, Cornelia (18 July 2006). "Dismissing 'Sexist Opinions' About Women's Place in Science". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  19. ^ a b Vedantam, Shankar (13 July 2003). "Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  20. ^ "Transgender Experience Led Stanford Scientist To Critique Gender Difference". ScienceDaily. 14 July 2006. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  21. ^ Maddox, Sam. "Barres Elected To National Academy of Sciences". Reeve Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  22. ^ Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (2009) SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance p.47
  23. ^ Sharon Begley, (July 13, 2006). He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat. Archived 2016-01-21 at the Wayback Machine. The Wall Street Journal
  24. ^ Ben Barres, (March 17, 2008). "Some Reflections on the Dearth of Women in Science", Harvard University.
  25. ^ Goldman, Bruce (27 December 2017). "Passing of a comet: Stanford neuroscientist Ben Barres dies at age 63". Stanford Medicine.
  26. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (29 December 2017). "Ben Barres, Neuroscientist and Equal-Opportunity Advocate, Dies at 63". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Strobel, Gabrielle (2010). Research Funding in Neuroscience: A Profile of the McKnight Endowment Fund. Academic Press. pp. 77-. ISBN 9780080466538.
  28. ^ Bates, Mary (27 February 2013). "Ben Barres: Glial Detective". Society for Neuroscience.
  29. ^ Maddox, Sam. "Stanford Scientist Ben Barres Joins Reeve Research Consortium". Reev Foundation. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  30. ^ "Executive Profile Ben Barres M.D., Ph.D." Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  31. ^ AAAS staff (6 December 2011). "AAAS Members Elected as Fellows". AAAS. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  32. ^ "National Academy of Sciences Members and Foreign Associates Elected". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  33. ^ "Society for Neuroscience". Retrieved 2017-01-23.

External links[edit]