News Release

MPFI researcher awarded $1.2 Million from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Grant and Award Announcement

Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju


MPFI Research Group Leader receives grant to investigate the causes of disrupted energy supply in neurons that lead to cognitive decline in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

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Credit: Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju has been named a recipient of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s “Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award,” which will provide her lab with $1.2 million over four years to study dysfunctions of brain energy supply. 

Dr. Rangaraju is a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI). With this award, her lab will investigate the causes of disrupted energy supply in neurons that lead to cognitive decline in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Dr. Rangaraju and her research team will use super-resolution microscopy to visualize the energy-producing mitochondria within neurons and determine if ALS-disease-linked mutations disrupt their stabilization. They will combine this approach with their newly developed biosensors to measure neuronal energy levels and investigate the metabolic disruptions that impair learning and memory in ALS.

The Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards are part of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NCDN), launched in 2018 to bring researchers from diverse disciplines and expertise to create an open collaboration and better understand neurodegenerative diseases. 

“We are thrilled to receive the generous support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. This grant allows my lab to expand our research program into risky, new directions of in vivo behavior models and human iPSC neuron models of ALS, allowing us to tackle neuronal cell biology from a new perspective. Understanding what happens in the brain when mitochondrial energy is disrupted has tremendous potential to find common mechanisms across many neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Rangaraju. 

The Rangaraju Lab utilizes state-of-the-art technologies to measure mitochondrial structure and function in health and disease. Many neurodegenerative disorders are characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction; however, the underlying causes of this dysfunction are mostly unknown. 

Dr. Vidhya Rangaraju started her Research Group Leader position at the MPFI in January 2020. The overarching goal of the Rangaraju group is to investigate the energy supply and use of biological processes in neurons.

Prior to her appointment at MPFI, Rangaraju was an EMBO and Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the group of Dr. Erin Schuman at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Germany. During her postdoc, she uncovered the presence of local mitochondrial compartments of energy that fuel synaptic plasticity, the biological process of memory formation.

Rangaraju completed her Ph.D. in the lab of Dr. Timothy Ryan at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. During her graduate work, she developed a novel optical reporter to measure dynamic changes in energy within neuronal synapses and discovered the link between neuronal activity and energy production.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Vincent du Vigneaud Award of Excellence, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Award, the MPIBR Scientific Discovery of the Year Award, the Society for Neuroscience Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award, and now a Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

About the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI), a not-for-profit research organization, is part of the world-renowned Max Planck Society, Germany’s most successful research organization with over 80 institutes worldwide. Since its establishment, 31 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, including six in the last four years alone. As its first U.S. institution, MPFI provides exceptional neuroscientists from around the world with the resources and technology to answer fundamental questions about brain development and function. MPFI researchers employ a curiosity-driven approach to science to develop new technologies that make groundbreaking scientific discoveries possible. For more information, visit


For Immediate Release

Contact: Katie Edwards, Head of Communication
Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience | +1 (561) 679-7395 | @MPFNeuro  

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