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Research
Pitt Establishes Brain Institute to Unlock Mysteries of the Brain, Discover Novel Therapies
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Jan 13, 2014 - 11:59:35 AM

(HealthNewsDigest.com) - PITTSBURGH, Jan. 13, 2014 - The University of Pittsburgh is creating a new Institute that aims to unlock the mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function, and then use this new information to develop novel treatments and cures for brain disorders. The new Institute will function like a Bell Labs for brain research and provide a special environment to promote innovation and discovery. The goal is to enable investigators to perform high-risk, high-impact neuroscience that will transform lives.

"Pittsburgh has earned well-deserved respect as one of the world's leading centers for groundbreaking research in neuroscience," said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "We have the intellectual firepower to take a lead role in the nationwide effort to revolutionize the understanding of the brain.  The creation of our Brain Institute reflects the high priority that we have assigned to this important work and will position Pitt for even higher levels of impact and achievement in the years ahead.  It also will strengthen our ongoing local, national and international research efforts, such as the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, which is a joint program with Carnegie Mellon University."

According to Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt's senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, the Brain Institute will initiate five centers that focus on neurotechnology, neurogenetics, brain mapping, learning, and discovery in neuroscience. The Brain Institute's mission also includes coordinating strategic planning for further research initiatives and developing and overseeing essential research resources. "The Brain Institute will bring to bear the substantial resources across the University to take on some of the major health and scientific concerns of our time," Dr. Levine said. "We have the will and the skills to unravel how the brain works, making this a very exciting time to conduct research in neuroscience."

Pitt has long been at the forefront of neuro-related research. The University is where: Salk developed a vaccine against polio which prevents the virus from damaging the nervous system and causing paralysis; Pittsburgh Compound B was developed for early detection of Alzheimer's disease; a brain-computer interface first made it possible for a woman with quadriplegia to feed herself by moving a robotic arm with just her thoughts; and new diagnostic tools and imaging methods are being developed to detect concussions and traumatic brain injuries. "The Brain Institute will add to this already remarkable list of achievements," said Dr. Levine.

Last April, President Obama announced the inception of the BRAIN Initiative, describing it as a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and address brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, stroke, and traumatic brain injury. Pitt's renowned researchers can rise to the challenge, noted Patricia E. Beeson, Ph.D., Pitt provost and senior vice chancellor.

"Our extensive and accomplished community of neuroscientists and physicians is part of a Pitt culture that encourages cooperation and collaboration with colleagues from a variety of disciplines, including bioengineering, communication disorders, computer science, mathematics, neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, psychiatry, psychology and rehabilitation," she said. "This breadth of talent and experience makes us ideally suited to take our understanding of brain function to the next level."

The Brain Institute's founding scientific director is Peter L. Strick, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair, Department of Neurobiology. He is a leading expert on the neural basis of movement and cognition.  Dr. Strick pioneered the use of viruses to reveal circuits of interconnected neurons. This technique is widely seen as one of the most powerful approaches yet developed to "map the brain." His studies provide insights into what goes wrong in a wide range of brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease, dystonia, autism, depression and schizophrenia. Most recently, he has begun to explore the brain connections that form the basis for the mind-body connection. Dr. Strick was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He holds the Endowed Chair in Systems Neuroscience, is co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, and is a Senior Research Career Scientist at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

"The critical task of discovering how the brain develops, how it functions normally, and how to alleviate and cure abnormal function requires a broad, multi-level and multi-disciplinary approach," Dr. Strick said. "In other words, it ‘takes a University.' I am enormously proud that the University of Pittsburgh has taken on this challenge."

Initially, five centers will be established at the Brain Institute. They are:

Currently, there are few effective treatments for most brain disorders, and cures are far from imminent for many chronic and debilitating neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases. "As the Baby Boomer population ages, we are facing a health crisis caused by the growing burden of neurologic and neuropsychiatric disease," Dr. Strick said. "The basic science and the translational research fostered by the Brain Institute are the critical first steps that must be taken to meet this challenge."

University of Pittsburgh Neuroscience Research Highlights

The University of Pittsburgh has a long history of research accomplishments and excellence in neuroscience. Pitt's "open academic architecture," which promotes an institutional spirit of cooperation and collaboration, enables research interactions to span departments, schools, centers and even extend into neighboring universities. Here are four examples of major advances that have come from research at Pitt:

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About the University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh is a state-related research university, founded as the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787. Pitt is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), which comprises 62 preeminent doctorate-granting research institutions in North America. With 16 schools and colleges and 34,000 students on five campuses, the University offers nearly 400 distinct degree programs and confers approximately 8,000 degrees annually. Pitt ranks fifth among all U.S. universities in terms of the competitive grants awarded to members of its faculty by the National Institutes of Health, and consistently ranks among the country's leading U.S. public research universities, according to The Top American Research Universities report issued by the Center for Measuring University Performance. For more information about the University of Pittsburgh, please visit www.pitt.edu.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, seewww.medschool.pitt.edu.

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