Alcino Silva

Alcino Silva is a neuroscientist who was the recipient of the 2008 Order of Prince Henry and elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013 for his contributions to the molecular cellular cognition of memory, a field he pioneered with the publication of two articles in Science (journal) in 1992.

Silva is a Distinguished Professor of neurobiology, psychiatry and psychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, director of the Integrated Centre for Learning and Memory at UCLA and the Founding President of the Molecular and Cellular Cognition Society.

He is former Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research Programmes (DIRP) at the National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH), having also served as member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minho, Portugal.

Silva was born in Portugal in 1961, but spent his early years in Luanda, Angola. He left Africa when he was only 12 and in Portugal he went through the Carnation Revolution of 1974. He arrived in the United States in 1978, attended Rutgers University, where he studied biology and philosophy and worked in the Drosophila laboratory of William Sofer. After that he pursued graduate studies in Human Genetics at the University of Utah. There, he worked with Raymond White, one of the pioneers of modern Human Genetics.

His graduate work showed that epigenetic patterns of DNA methylation can be polymorphic and that they are inherited in a Mendelian fashion. During his graduate studies he became intrigued by the inner processes of science, and organised yearly graduate symposia where leading scientists shared their insights on this subject. It was in Utah that he realised that he could combine his passion for biology with his interest in epistemology. It was also in Utah, while working with Mario Capecchi, that he had the idea of bringing the newly developed mouse gene targeting approaches to studies of memory. Capecchi shared the Nobel prize with Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies for the development of gene targeting strategies in mice.

The growth of the scientific literature in the last 20 years has been unprecedented. For example, the library of medicine now includes more than two million Neuroscience articles. Anthony Landreth and Alcino Silva have developed a strategy to derive maps (simplified abstraction) of published articles in Neuroscience that they think could be used to integrate and summarise with more clarity and objectivity what we know, what we are uncertain about and what we do not know in neuroscience. They propose that these maps of research findings would also be invaluable during experiment planning: Understanding more objectively the implications of the millions of neuroscience papers already published would allow neuroscientists to more clearly define what to do next. Landreth and Silva propose that quantitative maps of research findings will be to experiment planning in neuroscience what statistics is to experiment analyses: a tool that will help neuroscientists judge the likelihood that a series of planned experiments will contribute to the research record.

As a first step towards the generation of these maps, Landreth and Silva developed a way to classify the many millions of experiments in neuroscience into a small number of categories that are critical for the generation of these maps. To generate these maps, Landreth and Silva also developed a set of algorithms that formalize strategies neuroscientists use to determine the strength of evidence in their fields. These algorithms are used to represent the experiments in networks of causally connected phenomena (i.e., research maps). Pranay Doshi and colleagues in the Silva Lab developed a completely free app (www.researchmaps.org) that helps researchers generate these maps. Data from individual research articles is entered into a relational database, and the app can generate maps not only for experimental findings in single research articles, but also for combinations of findings associated with different articles. The user can query the app and tailor-make specific maps that can then be used for experiment planning.

You can see some of his selected publications on his website. He is also on Twitter @alcinojsilva.

Published: 04 April 2016

Last update: 19 August 2016

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