Being the new kid in town isn’t always easy, but just a little more than two years into its existence, the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center (CNC) is making a name for itself.
More than 100 UAB faculty are part of the CNC. Grant funding in the neurosciences is up 16 percent for the past two years, a significant feat in this economy. A graduate program in neuroscience is growing. And a new undergraduate major in neuroscience recently was added — one of the few such programs in the country.
|Comprehensive Neuroscience Center Director David Standaert is pleased with the progress the center has made in its two-plus years of existence. Long term, Standaert wants to model the center after the UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
CNC Director David Standaert, M.D., Ph.D. is pleased with the progress that has been made. Now he’s focusing on bringing together the various departments and individuals interested in neuroscience and understanding brain function and disease.
“The overall mission of the CNC is to promote and support interdisciplinary neuroscience research, clinical care and education at UAB by uniting neurosciences across the campus,” Standaert says. “We want to provide campuswide leadership in establishing and implementing neuroscience-related strategic objectives.
“Essentially, we want this to be a virtual center where we enhance communication and cooperation through seminars, symposiums, shared-grant applications, coordination of activities, sharing students across departments and encouraging joint mentorship of students among departments,” he explains.
Cancer Center is the model
Diseases of the nervous system represent some of the most physically and emotionally devastating illnesses afflicting mankind. Brain and spinal-cord injury, dementing illnesses, schizophrenia, depression, multiple sclerosis, autism and other neurological and psychiatric diseases often rob patients of their dignity, potential and hope. The CNC is positioned to make meaningful progress in understanding the mechanisms of brain function and dysfunction and ultimately to develop disease-prevention and treatment strategies, especially now that it has full center status.
The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees approved the CNC as a pilot center in September 2006. Kevin A. Roth, M.D., Ph.D was its director until the past year when he was promoted to chair of pathology.
Standaert took the CNC director reins shortly thereafter. This past fall the CNC applied for full recognized center status, and the board approved. Standaert hopes the CNC will grow like the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has during the past 20 years.
“They are our model,” Standaert says. “We want to bring our departments together to build things like teaching programs and clinical care programs. The cancer center takes everything — from diagnosing patients and treating them, to conducting studies, to teaching people about cancer — and they do it all under one roof. The long-term goal of the CNC is to create an organization that brings all of these elements of neuroscience — neurology, psychiatry, neurobiology, behavior — under one virtual umbrella.”
Standaert says that kind of progress is built through years of hard work and good communication, and the latter has been a key point of focus for the still-developing CNC. Multi-departmental neuroscience faculty groups focused on neurodevelopment, neuroimaging, Parkinson’s Disease and schizophrenia all have received organizational and/or financial support from the CNC. And, the CNC was one of three groups across the country selected for a Neuroscience Blueprint Core Center grant. More than 80 applications were submitted for the grant, which provides $8.6 million for five years to the Center from the National Institutes of Health to develop new ways of studying the brain.
“That’s a starting point. We’d like to do some more around that,” Standaert says. “We’d like to do some training grants in the neurosciences. All of this is a big effort in communication building and leveraging what’s here.”
Neurosciences are a priority of the university and a strategic priority in the School of Medicine’s long-term plan.
Many new faculty, in addition to Standaert and Roth, have been added in the past five years to form the leadership of the neuroscience team, including Ray Watts, M.D., chair of neurology; David Sweatt, Ph.D., chair of neurobiology; and James Meador-Woodruff, M.D., chair of psychiatry.
“We’ve brought in a lot of new blood, a lot of new talent, and much of it is based in community support and the gifts we’ve received to recruit people,” Standaert says. “We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to land some top-flight people.”
And in return, those newcomers have helped UAB generate $34 million in NIH funding. “That’s a pretty big number,” Standaert says.
Any faculty member can be a member of the CNC. Contact Molly Moran at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Members will be listed on the CNC Web site at www.cnc.uab.edu/Index.html and will receive information on all seminars and symposiums.
“We’re open to helping people build communication if they have ideas or needs,” Standaert says. “If they want to talk to us, we’d be happy to talk with them.”
Learn more about how your brain works
Want to know more about how your brain works? Then join UAB and the McWane Science Center for Brain Awareness Week, March 16-18.
Graduate students at the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center and the Center for Community Outreach and Development (CORD) will join with McWane staff to present activities to educate children and adults about the brain.
Demonstrations on how the senses work will help children understand the concepts of taste, smell, touch and hearing. Brains of different animals will be on display for comparison purposes and organizers will dissect a sheep brain and cow eyes.
Brain Awareness Week activities will take place Monday through Wednesday March 16-18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the McWane Science Center, located at 200 19th St. North.