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Science & Tech

A New Center for Science of the Mind

Center for Neuroscience fosters collaboration at BU

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“Neuroscience is an up-and-coming field, in which there are about to be major advances,” says Howard Eichenbaum, director of BU’s new Center for Neuroscience. Photo by Rohan Chitrakar (COM’06)

Neuroscience holds the promise of delivering new insights into difficult treatment areas such as addiction and mental illness, making it one of the fastest-growing fields in research and academia. Now BU is poised to expand its presence in these areas with the creation of the new Center for Neuroscience, which will bring scientists from both the Charles River and Medical Campuses under one umbrella to promote collaboration and innovation.

“Neuroscience is an up-and-coming field, in which there are about to be major advances,” says Howard Eichenbaum, the center’s director and a College of Arts and Sciences professor of psychology and a University Professor. “There is a push from the government, and from the directions that research has taken, to be able to bring together research in fundamental neuroscience — how the brain works — together with translational medicine, which is to produce drugs and therapies, and to address various mental illnesses. We have a lot of expertise on both campuses on both sides.”

Eichenbaum says that while BU is not internationally known as a neuroscience hub, he believes the new center will raise the University’s profile by highlighting the faculty currently performing research in the field. Topics of research might include addiction and anxiety disorders, “both of which we have great strengths in,” he says. “They are major national mental health problems and are ripe for both fundamental understanding and translational advances.”

Working in teams will lead to quicker breakthroughs than if researchers toil alone in their labs, Eichenbaum says. “Our research mission is to foster the development of working groups that take on topically related areas, either in fundamental or translational areas of the science, or combinations of the two,” he says. “Each working group would be related to one particular hot area that is ripe for major advances and would bring together those investigators.”

The center will also develop new graduate and undergraduate education programs. There are currently separate graduate programs in neuroscience on the Charles River and Medical Campuses, and they will come under the umbrella of a new graduate program led by Shelley Russek, a professor of pharmacology at the School of Medicine. “We want to bring together all the existing interdisciplinary neuroscience programs,” Eichenbaum says. “We will merge them into a single large neuroscience program.”

The new program will involve faculty in several departments on the Charles River Campus, including biology, psychology, mathematics and statistics, and cognitive and neural systems, as well as faculty from Sargent College and the College of Engineering department of biomedical engineering. A number of departments on the Medical Campus will also be involved, among them anatomy and neurobiology, neurology, neurosurgery, pharmacology, physiology and biophysics, and psychiatry. “Allowing students to be trained in basic and clinically related neuroscience will create a powerful program for us,” Eichenbaum says. The new graduate program is expected to begin in two years.

On the undergraduate side, a program will be created for students wanting to major in neuroscience, for which there is growing demand. “We have enormous strength with our faculty and existing courses,” Eichenbaum says. “With new courses we’re designing, we will have a really unique undergraduate major that brings together three areas of strength on this campus: in cell and systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and computational neuroscience.”

University leaders say that the Center for Neuroscience will help foster interdisciplinary research at BU and continue to build the University’s reputation in research. “The new center, along with work done through the Spivack Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at the Medical Campus, signals the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in advancing research and education in neuroscience,” says Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and Medical Campus provost.

“We are very well placed to make important contributions in neuroscience, because we have a lot of very strong people in this field,” adds Andrei Ruckenstein, BU’s associate provost and vice president for research. “We have the critical mass, we have the talent, and we just needed a catalyst, which the center provides. I think this new input of money and energy can provide the push for really putting us on the map.”

To kick-start the operation and provide seed money for interdisciplinary team research in high-risk, high-payoff areas, the University will provide $600,000 annually during the center’s first five years and $300,000 annually for the subsequent five years. The center will seek outside funding sources as well.

The center’s growth will also be assisted by an executive committee made up of experts in the field at BU. Members include Mark Moss, a MED professor and chairman of the anatomy and neurobiology department; Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, a CAS associate professor and director of graduate studies in the cognitive and neural systems department; Domenic Ciraulo, a MED professor and chairman of the psychiatry department; David Farb, a MED professor and chairman of the pharmacology department; Nancy Kopell, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of Mathematics and Science and a CAS professor of mathematics and statistics; and Eichenbaum.