A University of Montana department chairman who studies how brain cells communicate with one another has been named a Regents professor, a rare academic honor.

Richard Bridges, chairman of UM's Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, was awarded the title by the state Board of Regents on Friday.

He joins only eight others at UM to receive the award in the past 20 years.

Lauded as an "outstanding researcher" and professor, Bridges works in the field of neuroscience and neurochemistry and for eight years directed the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience at UM.

He was nominated for the award, considered the highest honor in Montana academia, by UM President Royce Engstrom.

Engstrom said Bridges "exemplifies the spirit of the faculty at UM."

Dave Forbes, dean of the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Science, said it is Bridges' ability to communicate and teach complex issues to his students that is most impressive.

"He uses his excellent problem-solving skills to deftly communicate complex biomedical concepts to the school's health professional students using innovative computer technology," he said.

Also chairman of the Montana Neuroscience Institute, Bridges has focused his work on the processes of the membranes of cells within the human nervous system and the proteins that regulate the movement of molecules in and out of cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Those processes - basically, how brain and spinal-cord cells communicate with each other -are of keen interest to drug developers battling such maladies as Lou Gehrig's disease, spinal injuries, brain tumors, viral infections, depression and even drug addiction.

Bridges, who joined the UM faculty in 1993 as an associate professor, was promoted to full professor in 1998. After receiving his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of California-Davis, Bridges received his doctorate from Cornell Medical College in 1984.

The state Board of Regents established the Regents professor position in 1991 to honor the top researchers and professors in the state.

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