ALD22: Professor Hailan Hu, Neuroscientist

Hailan Hu

Professor Hailan Hu

Hailan Hu, 胡海岚, is a neuroscientist who studies the neurological mechanisms behind emotional and social experiences and how they change the brain’s neural circuitry. Her work is opening up new approaches to treating mental illness.

Born in China in 1973, Hu received her BSc in biochemistry and molecular biology from Peking University in Beijing in 1996. She completed her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in 2002. She worked across the US until returning to China in 2008 to set up her own lab at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai.

In 2011, her team showed that the social rank of mice is encoded in neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, with neurological differences between higher and lower ranked mice. Changing the strength of the connections between neurons resulted in the mice’s social status changing.

In 2016, Hu and her team discovered that a set of neural circuits called the lateral habenula become hyperactive in depressed rats. Ketamine, a fast-acting antidepressant, alleviated the rats’ symptoms by reducing that neuronal hyperactivity.

Increasing our understanding of the neurobiology of mental health disorders opens up new avenues for therapeutics. In an interview, Hu said, “we discovered how the anaesthetic ketamine blocks electrical bursts from a region of the brain and relieves the symptoms of severe depression. We’re talking to scientists and clinicians worldwide about translating the research into antidepressants.”

Hu’s lab has formal collaborations with a number of research groups, including at the University of California, Los Angeles, Columbia University in New York City and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Hu won the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science award in 2015 and 2022, as well as many other prizes and awards.

Further Reading

Posted in Ada Lovelace Day 2022.