Professor Max Bennett - Citation Summary

Section 2

Citation - On being made Professor of Neuroscience

For sixty years it was thought that nerve terminals release only two substances (noradrenaline and acetylcholine) that control the cells on which they make connections. Bennett showed that there are at least two other substances released and now over thirty have been identified. One of these, ATP, has been shown to play a major role in the generation of pain following nerve injury as well as in the immune systems control of inflammation. This has resulted in contemporary pharmacology having as a main aim the blocking of ATP so as to ameliorate pain and cell death. Bennett also discovered that nerve terminals reform connections on other cells after a nerve injury at sites which have specialized molecules on their surface for triggering the terminals to stop growing and form a synapse. The identification of these synapse formation molecules is a main task of molecular neuroscientists, with several of the molecules now recognized. This holds our great hope for reconstructive nerve regeneration after injury. As a consequence of this research on nerve terminals the University of Sydney conferred on Bennett in 2001 its first University Chair, for ‘research recognized internationally as of exceptional distinction'. In addition, in 2001 he received the Distinguished Achievement Medal of the Australian Neuroscience Society, only the second time it had been awarded in the 25 year-old history of the Society. Later, in 2001, he was elected President of the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience, the main international organization concerned with how the brain controls the internal organs such as the heart and blood vessels and of what goes awry in the brain under conditions of extreme stress and in cardiovascular diseases.


Contributions to the history and philosophy of the brain and mind sciences

Bennett is the worlds leading neuroscientist on the history and philosophy of brain and mind research. The main theme of his philosophical work is that the brain sciences have distorted the use of language in attributing our psychological capacities as in thinking, remembering, perceiving etc to the brain rather than to the person whose brain it is; the brain being necessary for us to express these abilities, but it is we who express them. This has profound implications for how we view ourselves. In his historical work Bennett has followed the evolution of our ideas concerning the functioning of the different components of the brain and their organization from the time of Aristotle to the present. He has shown how fundamental ideas arise in this area through a combination of research, prejudice and irrationality and of how strong hypotheses concerning brain function are often abandoned for extended periods of time in favor of less logical hypotheses. Bennett's most recent works include ‘ History of the Synapse (2000)', ‘ Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (2003; with P.Hacker) and ‘ Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language (with D.Dennett, J.Searle and P. Hacker; 2006)'. Recognition of his stature in this area was afforded in Christmas 2005 when he was invited by the American Philosophical Society to give a plenary presentation at their annual meeting in New York , the first neuroscientists to do so.


Contributions to the founding of new organizations to promote brain and mind research

Bennett has a tremendous commitment to the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind. To this end he established the major research/clinical facility in Australia for the treatment/research of those suffering from these diseases, ‘The Brain and Mind Research Institute' in Sydney . The first stage of this was opened by the Governor of NSW (Professor Marie Bashir AC) in 2004 and the second stage by the Prime Minister of Australian, the Honorable John Howard in June 2006. Bennett founded the organization ‘Brain and Mind , Australia ' in 2002 which has been responsible for major symposia and workshops each year concerned with bringing together the best brain scientists and clinical psychiatrists. He has been responsible for organizing the thirty-six University and Research Institutes that make up the Association of Pacific Rim Universities forming ‘Brain and Mind, Asia/Pacific' in 2004-2005. The aim of this is to marshal the great research strengths of these Universities to ameliorate diseases of the brain and mind. His work on the Mental Health Council of Australia (2002-) and as a Director of the Australian Brain Foundation (2004-), of Neuroscience Australia (2002-2005) as well as of the Institute for Biomedical Research (2002-2006) and the International Brain Research Organization (1996-2002) has enabled him to make further contributions to assist those suffering from diseases of the brain and mind.


Contributions to the community through explaining the discoveries made in the brain sciences and their implications.

Bennett has been tireless in his efforts to explain progress made in the brain sciences to the community as well as the ethical and philosophical issues which arise from this progress. He frequently makes invited presentations to, for example, gatherings of Supreme Court Judges (2004), senior business leaders (2004, 2005), church leaders (2004) and public forums involving dialogue with distinguished guests such as the Dali Lama (2002). In addition, Bennett is a frequent guest in the media, making presentations on questions concerning brain and mind research and its history, such as on John Cade (the discoverer of lithium for the treatment of bipolar manic/depression: 2004) and Sir John Eccles (the Australian Nobel Prize winning brain scientist and theorist on the relation between brain & mind: 2002). In addition Bennett has been chosen to assist in many Australian Government task forces to advise Ministers of Health, Education and Science on how to best optimize the nations research capacity in the brain and mind sciences and use this for the alleviation of suffering of our fellow citizens.



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