Close up of Sinisa Hrvatin

Gretchen Ertl/Whitehead Institute

Whitehead Institute Member Siniša Hrvatin named a 2024 McKnight Scholar

The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience has selected Whitehead Institute Member Siniša Hrvatin as one of ten early career scientists to receive a 2024 McKnight Scholar Award, supporting his research on mechanisms underlying certain animals’ capacity to enter states of torpor and hibernation.

The McKnight Scholar Awards are given to exceptional young scientists who demonstrate the potential for having important impact through their basic science studies of the brain and their discoveries’ translation to clinical practice. Scholars also demonstrate a commitment to an equitable and inclusive lab environment and to mentoring neuroscientists from underrepresented groups at all levels of training.

Hrvatin’s research seeks to address fundamental biological questions about the capacity of certain species to survive harsh environmental conditions by decreasing body temperature and entering torpor or hibernation.

“Despite decades of research on animal hibernation, scientists still do not understand how certain mammals initiate and regulate torpor and hibernation,” says Hrvatin, who is also an assistant professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I am grateful that the McKnight Scholar Award will help fund our lab’s efforts to answer two key questions: Which neuronal circuits in the brain regulate hibernation? And why are only some animals capable of entering states of torpor and hibernation?”

Since joining Whitehead Institute in September 2022, Hrvatin’s investigations and the methods he has developed to pursue them have drawn significant attention from funders of high-potential work by early career scientists. In addition to being selected as a McKnight Scholar, he received a National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award and has been named as both a Searle Scholar and a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. Those awards have also supported his efforts to develop new tools and approaches to study mammalian hibernation — work that could ultimately lead to significant medical advances.

In the McKnight-funded work, Hrvatin’s lab aims to identify neurons that regulate entry into hibernation in Syrian hamsters; the team will then examine whether such neurons exist in other hibernating and non-hibernating rodents. “We believe that our results will reveal a specific neuronal population in the hamster brain that regulates hibernation,” he explains. “Then we intend to develop ways to identify such neurons in other species and explore to what extent those neurons are evolutionarily conserved in animals that hibernate.”

The McKnight Scholar Awards — the McKnight Foundation’s earliest means of supporting neuroscience research — have been given annually since 1977. Since 1999, it has been guided by the goal of supporting basic science research with the potential of addressing problems with imminent clinical implications. That goal matches well with Hrvatin’s.

“We are motivated in our studies by both the opportunities for scientific discovery and the possibility that those discoveries could lead to a range of medical applications: from new ways of treating metabolic disease to methods of protecting neurons from ischemic injury and preserving organs for transplantation,” Hrvatin says.

More information on this year’s McKnight Scholar Awards is available here.



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Sinisa Hrvatin

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