Washington National Primate Research Center

December 2, 2021

Q&A ‘About Dr. Basso’

What is her area of research?

Dr. Michele A. Basso has dedicated her career to helping advance our understanding of the brain. She is committed to the ethical use of animals in biomedical and behavioral research to help understand how the brain works with the goal of alleviating the suffering faced by millions of patients and families around the globe.  Basso’s research program is aimed at understanding brain circuitry that gives rise to cognitive ability that impacts choices of action. Work in her laboratory recently revealed a novel decision-making impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease. Based on their recent findings, Basso’s team is developing a monkey model of the decision-making impairment, to better understand the brain circuits involved and to better understand the relationship between cognitive and motor impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Cognitive impairment is a significant issue affecting people with Parkinson’s disease and Dr. Basso’s work toward unraveling these brain circuits, is a step toward bringing us closer to understanding and eventually treating cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease.

What is her background?

Dr. Basso studied Psychology and Neuroscience at Stony Brook University, where her interest in Parkinson’s disease began and where she received her Ph.D. for work studying blink reflex abnormalities using a rodent model of Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Basso’s findings laid the groundwork for understanding the brain circuits responsible for involuntary eyelid spasms called blepharospasm. After receiving her Ph.D., she was a post-doctoral fellow at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). At NIH Dr. Basso expanded her work to uncover brain mechanisms of decision-making in nonhuman primates. Discoveries based on her research at the NIH helped us understand that areas of the brain involved in eye movements also play a role in cognition.

Basso’s first faculty appointment was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she continued her exploration of the relationship between eye movements and decision-making in monkeys and rodents. She was then recruited to join the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she directed the Fuster Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience. At UCLA her work continued to focus on foundational neuroscientific problems, and expanded to include patient populations with Parkinson’s disease and Dystonia.

How will she support WaNPRC?

Basso is committed to the growth and sustainability of WaNPRC. As a highly respected member of the scientific community, Basso brings her impressive experience and expertise to this key leadership role at the University of Washington. She served on many scientific panels that advise the government and private foundations. She also served her field’s major scientific organization, the Society for Neuroscience, notably as chair of the Society’s Ethics committee. She is a recognized expert in the field of primate research and the ethical use of animals in research, publishing papers on the topic and serving as a member of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees at the University of Wisconsin and UCLA, and as the Chair of the Animal Care Program Advisory Committee at UCLA. Basso is committed to openness and transparency regarding scientific research with animals, especially nonhuman primates.

We are hearing some controversy around hiring Dr. Basso – was the UW aware of this?

Dr. Basso is the target of misinformation campaigns by some who oppose animal research. The University of Washington and WaNPRC were, of course, aware of the issues, and are confident that they did not represent any cause for concern about the recruitment of this talented individual. Although scientists continue to develop alternatives to animal testing, we firmly believe that with our current state of knowledge, there are no replacements for the essential and foundational discoveries made possible using animal models, including Basso’s important work with rodents and monkeys. Like her colleagues at the University of Washington and around the world, Basso is fully committed to the ethical, responsible and humane treatment of laboratory animals in this and all other areas of biomedical research.