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As brain science takes a prominent position on the nation’s research agenda, BU is launching a new interdisciplinary research center to explore the roots of psychiatric diseases and neurological impairments.
The Center for Systems Neuroscience (CSN), opening in July, will be led by Michael Hasselmo, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of psychological and brain sciences. The inaugural director, Hasselmo says the center’s researchers will work to further enhance the understanding of how brain systems mediate behavior. “We plan to build on the exciting research of neuroscience faculty at Boston University,” he says. “And we will foster new collaborations to generate experimental and computational advances in the field.”
The center’s administrative offices and some staff, drawn from both Medical Campus and Charles River Campus faculty, will eventually be located in the Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering at 610 Commonwealth Ave. That building, now in the design phase, is scheduled to open in three and half years. CSN members will remain in their current locations until the building opens.
Hasselmo says systems neuroscience studies how nerve cells in different brain regions interact to guide functions such as learning, memory, speech, perception, and attention. BU already does significant research in this area, but the Center for Systems Neuroscience will enhance collaboration among scientists at CAS, the College of Engineering, Sargent College, and the School of Medicine. Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research, says such collaborations will play a major role in the University’s future.
“Our expectation,” says Waters, “is that this strategic investment will pay off in terms of increased research funding, visibility for this area of research at BU, and hopefully, philanthropy” to further support the center.
“The center will support the development and use of innovative new techniques for large-scale recording of neuronal activity and for circuit manipulations altering the activity of individual types of neurons,” Hasselmo says. “It will also foster development of theoretical and computational models of brain function, as well as statistical techniques for analysis of neuroscience data” by teaming researchers in various BU centers and schools.
The center’s creation dovetails with the federal BRAIN initiative announced a year ago by President Obama to probe the origins of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
In a letter to the University community, President Robert A. Brown wrote that “we have considerable strength and substantial commitment” in systems neuroscience, among other areas. “Organizationally,” he added, “we propose to emphasize research centers and institutes that span our schools and colleges and that focus on building research communities in select areas.”
Hasselmo earned an AB from Harvard University and a PhD from Oxford University. A Rhodes Scholar, he is known for his work on episodic memory and computational modeling of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and serves on the editorial boards of several journals.
In an email to faculty and staff announcing the establishment of the center, Jean Morrison, University provost, and Waters said that over the course of the next few months, Hasselmo will meet with members of the neuroscience community for their input on how the center can best foster collaboration and further enhance research in systems neuroscience at Boston University.