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2024 Innovators and Influencers: Kausik Si, Ph.D.

From In Kansas City Magazine: Meet 10 people, including Stowers Scientific Director Kausik Si, Ph.D., who are making a difference in Kansas City.

03 July 2024

The 2024 class of In Kansas City Magazine's Influencers and Innovators. Kausik Si, Ph.D., Scientific Director of the Stowers Institute, is pictured far left.

Below is an excerpt featuring Stowers Scientific Director Kausik Si, Ph.D., who was recently named to In Kansas City Magazine's 2024 list of Innovators and Influencers in Kansas City. Read the full article and learn more about the other honorees here

Healthcare: Kausik Si, Stowers Institute for Medical Research
By: Katie Van Luchene

Our first kiss. A favorite aunt’s perfume. The smell of a campground fire. Memories—good or bad—define us, are “part of who we are as humans,” according to neurologist Kausik Si. And apart from triggering an emotion, memories can mean life or death.

Take the simple fruit fly, one of the tiny beings the scientist is studying as a means to help treat brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s. “Fruit flies must remember where the food is, who to mate with, who to avoid. Consciousness, the relationship between prey and predator, which is part of every living thing, is what intrigues me the most. A fruit fly may seem so far from us, yet you can get deep inside to see how memories work.”

Of the two parts of any disease—the cause and the cure—Si’s work tackles the cause. In the case of Alzheimer’s, there have been multiple studies on proteins that clump, called amyloids. Si’s groundbreaking study, called “Tuning memory by altering amyloids,” asks what if this clumping isn’t always a bad thing?

Perhaps, he surmised, if instead of removing all the clumps, we can remove just the bad ones and keep the good ones.

He and a scientist partner earned an award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which was founded in 2015 by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Photo by Ron Berg

The funding organization has the same goal as the Stowers Institute where Si works: to expand our understanding of the secrets of life and improve life’s qualities through innovative approaches to the cause, treatment, and prevention of disease.

Asking the big questions, the “what ifs” is “the beauty and joy of science,” says Si. “Finding something you would never imagine.”

As a professor of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, that’s what he tries to impart to his students. “By realizing we don’t know everything, it frees your thinking. As humans, we’re drawn to the unknown, to that element of surprise. It’s why we go to the jungle or to the moon.

“It’s the same with scientists. I try to teach the wonders of life and nature.”

Si is grateful to be associated with the institute founded by the late James E. Stowers, Jr. and his wife, Virginia Stowers. “It’s a remarkable gift to Kansas City.” He says this while overlooking a gift from another philanthropist, the Kauffman Gardens, from his office window.

It’s tied to how he describes Kansas City. “It’s a place to think, to reflect and appreciate the gift of life and nature. Before moving here, all I knew about Kansas City came from one of my favorite writers, Calvin Trillin. I soon learned there was so much more.”

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