University of Saskatchewan

April 17, 2014   

U of S alumnus receives UNESCO prize for popularization of science

René Raúl Drucker-Colín
January 20, 2012

Professor René Raúl Drucker-Colín (PhD’71), an eminent Mexican scientist who obtained is PhD from the University of Saskatchewan, is the winner of the 2011 UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science.

Drucker-Colin, who got his bachelor’s degree from National Autonomous University of Mexico and his master’s from Northern Illinois University before coming to Canada for his doctorate degree, focuses his neurological research in two areas: sleep and wakefulness, specifically narcolepsy, and Parkinson’s disease.

“We spend about one-third of our lives asleep,” says Drucker-Colin, 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.”

Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder that is characterized by hypersomnia, or sudden “sleep attacks” in which individuals can suddenly fall into deep REM sleep. Drucker-Colin’s 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.

Drucker-Colin was involved in the first cell transplant to treat Parkinson’s disease almost 25 years ago. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by resting tremors and rigidity. Symptoms occur when the cells in the brain stem decrease development of dopamine. “We can substitute lost cells with those that produce dopamine. Not all patients respond in the same way, but we are trying to find which type of cells are best to transplant.”

He is an ardent promoter of science with his work being regularly published in La Jornada, a leading Mexican daily, and participating in the science programs of Televisa, a national broadcaster, over the past 12 years. “When I 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 piece airing on a popular Mexico City radio station and eventually started airing six to seven times per day on television. “It became part of Mexican life.”

Professor Drucker Colín received a cheque for $20,000, the silver UNESCO-Albert Einstein medal and a certificate at an award ceremony on January 4 in Bhubaneswar (India). The ceremony took place during the 99th Indian Science Congress, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the prize. To mark the occasion, an international symposium on the popularization of science was held on the sidelines of the congress from January 4 - 6, with several previous prize winners in attendance.

The UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science was created by UNESCO in 1951 and is awarded every two years. Financed jointly by the Kalinga Foundation and the Government of the State of Orissa (India), the prize rewards the efforts of writers, editors, lecturers, radio/television program directors or film producers who have made a significant contribution towards presenting science and technology to a general public.

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