Big boost for brain research

Ted Abel, director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute

A $45 million grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust has established a cross-disciplinary neuroscience center at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine to study diseases that affect the brain and nervous system.

The new Iowa Neuroscience Institute will bring together the UI’s top scholars—including biologists, computer scientists, neuropsychologists, engineers, fundamental chemists, biochemists, and geneticists—to tackle some of the toughest problems in the neurosciences. The grant will support the creation and maintenance of core neuroscience laboratories; Research Programs of Excellence awarded to institute members demonstrating outstanding research leadership; and five faculty chairs, four professorships, and 10 junior-level investigators.

“Perhaps more than any other field, we are seeing that major advances in neuroscience stem from cross-disciplinary efforts. This is why we knew it was important for us to combine our highly collaborative spirit with our strengths in basic and clinical neuroscience research already existing in many colleges throughout the university to establish the University of Iowa as a leading center for excellence in neuroscience,” said Jean Robillard, MD (’74 F), UI vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Carver College of Medicine, at the institute’s dedication in February.

At the Iowa Neuroscience Institute dedication were Lynette Marshall, UI Foundation; Jean Robillard and Ted Abel, UI Health Care; and D. Scott Ingstad, David M. Utley, and Troy Ross, Carver Charitable Trust.

Ted Abel, PhD, joined the UI from the University of Pennsylvania in January as director of the institute, which is based in the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building. At the dedication, he shared that he has a son with autism spectrum disorder, and this firsthand experience motivates his work.

“At the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, we hope to make a difference in the lives of people like my son—to build a campus-wide neuroscience community that makes revolutionary discoveries in fundamental neuroscience and translates them into clinical treatments for brain disorders,” Abel said.

The Carver Charitable Trust and the family of Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver have provided support to the university and UI Health Care for decades. Collectively, their support totals more than $195 million, making them the largest donors to the UI. In 2002, the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine was named in honor of them and their gifts supporting medical research.

“The impact of that support is reflected in what we see now in the game-changing research being conducted here every day,” Robillard said.

News from neurosciences

Andrew Pieper (top), Nandakumar Narayanan, and Krystal Parker

Loss of brain cells through injury, stroke, or neurodegenerative disease causes physical and cognitive disability in millions of people every year. Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, University of Iowa professor of psychiatry, has shown that P7C3-A20—a neuroprotective compound he helped to discover—protects brain cells in rats during stroke and improves physical and cognitive outcomes in the treated animals.

Estimating the passage of time requires certain cognitive skills that are impaired in Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Nandakumar Narayanan, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, and Krystal Parker, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, have shown that this characteristic timing deficit is accompanied by loss of delta waves. Using frequency-specific brain stimulation in rodents can restore the missing brain waves and correct behaviors that mimic cognitive problems associated with Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and possibly other neuropsychiatric diseases, including autism.