George Robert (Bob) Siggins
Class of 1956
Hall of Honor 2007
“George-Bob” Siggins has pursued two careers, as a brain research neuroscientist and as a musician. At GISHS he played 3 varsity sports, and was a member of the 1953 undefeated State Champion football team. After obtaining a ‘Regional’ scholarship to Harvard University in 1956 as a pre-med student, he graduated cum laude in biological chemistry in 1960 and was accepted to Tufts Medical School. However, he realized his passion was for scientific research of the nervous system, and that he might bring more good to more people if he could help solve some of the more devastating brain and behavioral disorders.
He therefore entered Boston University graduate school in 1961 and obtained an M.A. and Ph.D. in biology and physiology in 1967. He was recruited to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington D.C. for postdoctoral training in neuropharmacology, working with the highly-regarded Floyd Bloom (later Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious Science magazine). Siggins became Section Chief and then Acting Lab Chief at NIH. His early work provided a solid foundation for investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying several brain disorders, and how certain drugs that act through these mechanisms might provide therapeutic relief. Several awards resulted: the A.E. Bennett Award for Basic Research in Psychiatry (Society of Biological Psychiatry; 1971), the A. Cressy Morrison Award in Natural Science (New York Academy of Science; 1971), and the CINE Golden Eagle Award (1976; for the film "Movements of Organelles in Living Nerve Fibers").
Siggins moved to the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA in 1975, as Associate Director of the A.V. Davis Center for Behavioral Neurobiology, to work with researchers who discovered brain endorphins and opiate peptides. This allowed study of the effects of morphine and other abused opiate drugs on the synaptic receptors for these peptides, and led to two more awards, the Alexander von Humboldt Special Prize and the Bissendorf Award, and a year’s sabbatical in Munich, Germany. Opiates are still under extensive study in his lab at the Scripps Research Institute, to which he moved in 1983 as Member and then Professor. At both the Salk and the Scripps, he also examined the mechanisms underlying alcohol effects and alcoholism. As a result of these electrophysiological and molecular studies of brain synapses, and collaborations forged with behavioral psychologists, he now investigates therapeutic treatments for alcoholism. The results reveal the mechanisms of action of Acampral and Naltrexone, both now in use for alcoholism treatment, as well as a new candidate, Gabapentin. He has also investigated the cellular mechanisms underlying dementia due to HIV-1 infection (neuroAIDS) and Alzheimer’s disease, which caused the death of his mother, Margaret Siggins.
Siggins has published over 190 peer-reviewed research papers and reviews on basic and health-related brain research. These activities over the last 42 years have led to a greater understanding of the brain and disorders like dementia, depression and Parkinson’s, and contributed to treatments for drug and alcohol addiction. In addition, he has served on many journal editorial boards and scientific advisory committees for the federal government (NIH and the Veterans Administration) and several universities, helping them determine where best to spend their research dollars. He also has mentored scores of neuroscience students and postdoctoral trainees in the methods of brain and drug research.
Siggins’ second body of work involves music. Because of his mother’s passion for playing and teaching piano and organ, he began playing music in high school and then professionally in college. He plays multiple stringed instruments and sings, and was a founding member of three Boston groups, the Charles River Valley Boys, The Mother Bay State Entertainers and Kweskin’s Jug Band. He also performed with other notable musicians, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Liz Meyer and Friends, Hazel Dickens and Alice Seeger, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Chris Darrow, and the Hula Hodads. He now plays regularly in two bands in the San Diego area: Cheeky Monkey and Bonehead. He feels strongly that music is a great stress-reliever, for both him and his audience.
Siggins is also involved in community service, first in donating his musical services for many benefits, and as President of the Del Mar (CA) Surf Club, helping young kids learn to surf and stay off the streets. His is also a member and former president of the Del Mar Kiwanis Club, assisting the world’s children, via multiple fund-raisers to benefit kids’ charities, such as the San Diego Children’s Hospital, Toys for Tots, Voices for Children, Phoenix House and La Classe Magica.
Last but not least, he considers that helping raise his three children (Leah Ridpath, Shannon Siggins and Graham Siggins), and his grandson Jake Ridpath, as his greatest accomplishment, with a high potential for improving the human condition.