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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 19, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 26
JHM Launches Unique Brain Science Institute

Interdisciplinary endeavor will bring together experts from across the university

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Medicine has recently launched the Brain Science Institute, a unique interdisciplinary endeavor that its leaders feel will help transform the field of neuroscience.

The institute will forge collaborations among those in direct brain-based research, who will work alongside geneticists, engineers and imaging experts. Its faculty will be drawn from basic and clinical neuroscience departments at the School of Medicine, other SoM departments and those in the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering.

An anonymous family has provided resources to fund the institute's initial research.

John "Jack" Griffin, who formerly led the Department of Neurology, has been named the institute's director, and Richard Huganir, director of the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, will serve as associate director. An advisory group consisting of members from 14 departments, including the core departments of Neuroscience, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, and Psychological and Brain Sciences, will help guide the institute.

Griffin predicts great advances in the understanding of the brain and the nervous system in the near future and that, with this institute, Johns Hopkins will be on the frontline of innovation and discovery.

"We feel this institute will have a real impact on the study of the brain and its functioning during the next several decades," Griffin said. "We are very excited about this new endeavor. This will change how brain science is done here and, we feel, become a model for other institutions."

The institute's faculty will address fundamental questions in neuroscience, as well as immediate needs in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases. Specifically, their research will help unlock such mysteries as how the brain develops and how to treat — and hopefully one day, prevent — human cognitive disorders and neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, bipolar disorder, autism and ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

To foster the translation of discovery into therapies, the institute will explore novel partnerships with industry, foundations and other institutions.

Huganir said that the study of the brain is the new frontier in biology.

"We know the fundamentals: how neurons and synapses work. But the brain is incredibly complex, and we have a long way to go in terms of our understanding," he said. "For example, how does the brain recognize another face or complex objects? Something as basic as that is a huge black box for us to find and unlock."

In handicapping the success of the institute, Griffin said that Johns Hopkins has a huge advantage in that it already has hundreds of "outstanding, world-class" senior and junior faculty focused on the research and treatment of brain disorders. The institute will bring these people and resources together for maximum impact, he said, and also allow Johns Hopkins to recruit new talented investigators and centralize core technology and funding opportunities.

In its first two years, the BSI intends to create the Center for Neurogenetics, which will establish core research platforms and support novel interdisciplinary research teams; and the Center for Cognition, Behavior and Brain Imaging, which will support interdisciplinary research teams in new ways, including imaging brain functions.

The institute will also develop a series of symposia, small and large, to serve as an educational component. A major Brain Science Symposium is currently being planned for the fall.

"We've set out concrete, bite-sized goals that we will be able to strive toward in the next year or so as this institute's work gets under way," Griffin said. "We plan to set quite expansive long-term goals."

Edward Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, "This is an exciting move for The Johns Hopkins University and Hopkins Medicine. [This institute] represents an important collaboration between the Whiting School of Engineering, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Applied Physics Laboratory and will help us continue our leadership role in both neuroscience research and treatment of brain and neurological disorders."


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