Elaine Hsiao, assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College, has been selected to receive a five-year, $1.5 million award from the New York Stem Cell Foundation to support her research into how microbes affect the brain and behavior.

Hsiao studies the trillions of microbes the body contains that impact health and disease, and seeks to understand how they influence the brain and behavior. Among the questions Hsiao investigates are how these microbes communicate with the nervous system, their effects on the nervous system and how interactions between microbes and the nervous system impact health and disease.

The mission of the New York Stem Cell Foundation is to cure the major diseases of our time through stem cell research. In addition, the foundation funds “truly bold, innovative scientists with the potential to transform the field of neuroscience.” With the award, she will be a Robertson Investigator.

Hsiao and her research ream reported in the journal Cell this May that they have identified specific gut bacteria that play an essential role in the anti-seizure effects of the ketogenic diet. This was the first study to establish a causal link between seizure susceptibility and the gut microbiota — the 100-trillion-or-so bacteria and other microbes that reside in our intestines.

The new award will support Hsiao’s laboratory as she and her research team conduct new research.

Watch her TED talk on how the microbiome affects brain and behavior.