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July 24, 2017

Iowa Neuroscience Institute progress

Krystal Parker does a lot of thinking about the cerebellum. The cerebellum has more neurons than the rest of the brain combined and it is safely nestled at the base of the brain with widely dispersed connections. Yet, this structure was once thought essential only for motor functions and thus often neglected. Dr. Parker, who is an assistant professor in Psychiatry and a new faculty member in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, is part of a growing group of neuroscientists who have begun to define a broader role for the cerebellum in behavior, mood, and cognition.

Recently, she put out a campus-wide call to all UI scientists studying any aspect of the cerebellum to come meet each other and share their research. The first-ever meeting of about 15 researchers was very productive, with new connections being made and investigators agreeing they should meet on a regular basis.

Bringing researchers together to advance the understanding of the human brain is one of the major goals of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. I am very impressed with the tremendous progress Director Ted Abel and his team have made since establishing the Institute early this year with a transformational $45 million gift from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

Most recently, the Institute’s first round of funding was announced—$4.6 million over five years for seven Research Programs of Excellence. The funded research ranges from basic neuronal biology to translational studies for improving treatment of blindness, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The grants will help research teams lay the necessary groundwork for obtaining major national funding, and are also aimed at accelerating the pace of discovery by fostering diverse teams that include traditional neuroscience investigators, but also biomedical engineers, computer scientists, and experts in brain imaging, genetics, and cell biology.

Other Institute progress includes:

  • Enlisting current UI faculty members to join the Institute, and hiring eight new faculty members, two of whom are already here; others will arrive later this year through 2018
  • Publishing several research papers in key journals, including Nature, Neuron, and Molecular Psychiatry.
  • Expanding the education mission with a new undergraduate neuroscience major in cooperation with the Departments of Biology and Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Establishing a Neural Circuits and Behavior Core, with planning proceeding for a Stem Cell Core
  • Expanding our research capabilities in transcranial magnetic stimulation with new technology allowing us to better understand how stimulation affects various regions of the brain
  • Continuing outreach and promotion of neuroscience  research on campus, in Iowa and beyond with plans for UI Health Sciences week in April, featuring the theme “The Connected Brain,” and having a presence at the Iowa State Fair and upcoming conferences in Washington D.C. and Singapore

I could not be more proud of the good things that are happening in the Institute. Under Dr. Abel’s leadership and with the energy and enthusiasm of everyone associated with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, we are well on the way to the ultimate goal of improving the lives of patients with disorders of the brain and nervous system.

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