The McKnight Scholar Awards encourage neuroscientists in the early stages of their careers to focus on disorders of learning and memory. The Scholar Awards have been given annually since 1977. They were The McKnight Foundation's earliest means of supporting neuroscience research. In 1999, in revising the awards program, the Endowment Fund board continued the Scholar Awards but with the new goal of addressing problems with imminent clinical implications. The awards support young scientists who hold the M.D. and/or Ph.D. degree, who have completed formal postdoctoral training, and who demonstrate a commitment to neuroscience. The Endowment Fund especially seeks applicants working on problems that, if solved at the basic level, would have immediate and significant impact on clinically relevant issues. McKnight Scholars have generated some key findings about neuroscience, including:
- The discovery of receptors that encode the senses of smell, taste, and thermal pain.
- The first crystal structure of one of the ion channels that control the excitability of neurons.
- The discovery of neurotrophic factors that promote neuronal survival.
- The identification of molecules that promote axon growth and regeneration in the nervous system.
- The discovery of proteins in the nerve terminal that mediate the release of neurotransmitters.
- The identification of genes that control short- and long-term memory.