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Matthew Rizzo, MD, is UNMC's 15th Scientist Laureate

Image with caption: Matthew Rizzo, MD, Frances & Edgar Reynolds Chair and professor of neurological sciences, displays the award he will receive today as UNMC's 14th Scientist Laureate.

Matthew Rizzo, MD, Frances & Edgar Reynolds Chair and professor of neurological sciences, displays the award he will receive today as UNMC's 14th Scientist Laureate.

The era of the scientist in a silo -- think of Galileo working alone in his tower -- is over, said Matthew Rizzo, MD, Frances & Edgar Reynolds Chair and professor in the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences.

So even though Dr. Rizzo recently was named UNMC's 15th Scientist Laureate, he said that science's greatest discoveries -- not to mention awards like this one, the highest honor UNMC bestows upon its researchers -- now come from working in teams, or even "teams of teams."

View the virtual awards ceremony today at 4:30 p.m.

"I've worked with people in all of the colleges at UNMC, across all departments," said Dr. Rizzo, who will be honored along with other research awardees in a virtual ceremony today at 4:30 p.m.

"Many hands make light work, and there is a lot of wisdom in working together. Each of us have strengths. Each of us have gaps. Together, we can be really great."

That idea is the cornerstone of the Great Plains IDeA-CTR, an organization led by Dr. Rizzo that brings together institutions across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas to collaborate on research and develop research resources across clinical-translational research. This grant is the largest single grant UNMC has ever received, at $20 million.

The true, real-life strength of this team of teams was brought to light during the ongoing pandemic.

"Being nimble, pivoting quickly and marshalling resources to face down COVID-19 helped create data gold mines and biobanks to answer all kinds of questions," Dr. Rizzo said. "Some questions we want to answer are: What treatments work? What are the long-term side effects? Is there a greater rate of cognitive problems? Who's at greater risk? Will the virus have consequences down the road? It's unprecedented to get so many networks together quickly so we can pool data to help figure out what is going on with this disease and the pandemic. Even better, we can use this approach to tackle many other conditions beyond COVID."

Seeing how scientific data actually translates to real life is a common theme throughout Dr. Rizzo's career.

"What we do in the clinic is, we can tap on reflexes, listen to someone's heart, have them do some maneuvers, apply some tests.

"That tells us a lot about the disease, but it doesn't tell us how it plays out in the real world."

So what does?

Dr. Rizzo uses high-fidelity driving simulators at UNMC's Mind & Brain Health Labs along with digital information from a host of sensors embedded in people's own cars and personal devices. Driving, he said, is an excellent way to see how our brains affect our decision making and behavior under pressure in critical settings.

"It allows us to learn about people in context," he said.

This quest for knowledge, and how it applies to real people, in their real lives, is never-ending.

"It's just fascinating from so many different angles," Dr. Rizzo said.

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