Kelly ClancyKelly Clancy, a graduate student in Biophysics, has won the Regeneron Prize for Creative Innovation, a newly established award with only two winners each year. As the reward, Clancy took home a trophy and a $50,000 cash prize. UC Berkeley will also receive an award to support a seminar series.

“I did not think I was going to get it at all,” Clancy says in her lab in the Life Sciences Addition, “Everybody else’s proposals were in the hottest fields like stem cells or cancer. I just told my family that I didn’t get it.” But she did. Two days after the interview at Regeneron’s office in New York, Clancy says she was informed via an email that she had been selected as the winner.

The Regeneron Prize for Creative Innovation is designed to acknowledge, reward, and foster talented early-career scientists. Each year, Regeneron reaches out to institutions around the country and invites them to nominate their most innovative and talented trainees for the Regeneron Prize.

Each institution may nominate two outstanding graduate students and two outstanding postdoctoral fellows to enter the prize competition. The nominated students must submit evidence of scholarly productivity as well as a research proposal describing their “dream” project.

What won Clancy the top honor was her proposal for how to manipulate the brain to “unlearn” disease-related activities, an idea she says was inspired by her father’s chronic pain.

Clancy’s current research interest lies in neuroscience, in particular the cortical networks. She studied physics at MIT and worked as an itinerant astronomer for several years before going to Turkmenistan with the Peace Corps to teach English.

The time she spent in Central Asia also inspired her to write a graphic memoir about the war in the region, written from the perspective of women and children affected by America’s war on terror.

Upon returning to the U.S., Clancy learned that her friend from childhood was joining the Marines in Afghanistan; he later lost both legs and an arm to an IED. Clancy and a colleague have since developed an optically-based brain-machine interface that has shed light on how the brain learns to control these external devices. This may eventually help improve neuroprosthetic devices currently being developed for amputees and paralyzed patients.

Clancy hopes to continue to move towards more clinically-relevant research in hopes of improving the lives of patients. Her next step after earning her degree at Berkeley is to continue as a postdoctoral fellow at the Biozentrum in Switzerland.