Ben A. Barres (1954–2017)

Ben A. Barres (September 13, 1954 – December 27, 2017) was an American neurobiologist at Stanford University. His research focused on the interaction between neurons and glial cells in the nervous system. Beginning in 2008, he was Chair of the Neurobiology Department at Stanford University School of Medicine. 

Barres joined the neurobiology faculty at Stanford University in 1993. His academic appointments included Professor of Neurobiology, Developmental Biology, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and (by courtesy) of Ophthalmology. He became a member  of the Child Health Research Institute, member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. He was appointed as the chair of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2008.

Barres authored or co-authored over 160 publications. His studies were published in journals such as Nature Neuroscience and Cell.

His research involved studying mammalian glial cells of the central nervous system (CNS), including the exploration of their function and development. Some of his earliest work studied vertebrate nervous system development, including how and why many neurons fail to survive shortly after forming connections with their targets. These studies investigated how this programmed cell death, apoptosis, occurred in such a tremendous scale. Additionally, he studied processes such as the prerequisites for and consequences of axon myelination, and the interactions of various signaling molecules such as thyroid-hormone and retinoic acid within the formation of glial cells including oligodendrocytes.

Near the turn of the 21st century he continued his studies of glial cells and the mechanisms behind their ability to generate new neurons. He studied control of synapses by glia, and the differentiation of astrocytes by endothelial cells. He investigated the role of the protein Id2 in the control of oligodendrocyte development, primarily by allowing these glia to differentiate at properly regulated times, and established that removing this protein led to premature oligodendrocyte maturation.

These early investigations established Barres reputation in the study of glial cells. Barres discovered early in his time at Stanford the importance of glial cells in the formation, development, maturation, and regeneration of neurons. Additionally he determined glial cells' role in their ability to go beyond nurturing neurons, rather destroying them instead. His lab also discovered and developed methods for the purification and culturing of retinal ganglion cells and the glial cells in which they interact, including the oligodendrocytes and astrocytes of the optic nerve.

In the 2010s Barres's research focused on using techniques such as immunopanning, immunohisochemistry, tissue culturing, and patch clamping to: 1) understand the cell-to-cell interactions in the developmental regulation of nodes of Ranvier and myelin sheaths; 2) determine to what extent glial cells play a role in synapse formation and function of synapses; 3) identify the signals that promote retinal ganglia growth and survival, and how such knowledge of these signals could be regenerated post-trauma; 4) identify the functions and developmental mechanisms of gray matter astrocytes. In these objectives, his lab discovered a number of novel glial signals for the induction of myelination, axonal sodium channel clustering, and synapse formation processes. Additionally, his lab has characterized these processes and the exact identity of these novel signals.