Learning How The Brain And Social Experience Interact

A new behavioral neuroscience center led by scientists from Emory and Georgia State will attempt to discover how brain mechanisms regulate complex social behaviors and emotions, and conversely, how social experience may sculpt the developing brain.

Scientists will study behaviors such as fear, affiliation, aggression and reproductive behaviors at the molecular, cellular and systems levels in diverse species and at different stages of development.

This is the first interdisciplinary effort of this magnitude addressing these fundamental questions, and will involve the application and development of powerful new technologies.

A consortium of more than 60 neuroscientists at Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Atlanta University Center has been approved to become one of five new Science and Technology Centers (STC) nationwide by the National Science Foundation.

The NSF award will establish a Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, and is the only STC award given for study in the life sciences. Negotiations between NSF and the consortium on the five-year cooperative agreement will determine the final award amount, expected to be in the 15-20 million-dollar range.

"The award is an honor and an exciting challenge for Atlanta," says Emory's Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the new center. "It is an initiative unlike any other, coming at a particularly opportune time. Recent developments linking biology with behavior make this a crucial time for enormous advances in neuroscience. This award will enable us to transmit the excitement of these discoveries to a new generation of investigators."

The Science and Technology Center program is an initiative to explore frontiers of science while also creating educational opportunities. It is designed to increase minority participation in science, encourage technology transfer, provide innovative approaches to interdisciplinary research challenges and develop partnerships among industry, academia and federal and state governments.

"The Center will establish a new way to conduct cutting edge research that reaches and involves our entire community from kindergarten students to Georgia's emerging biotech industry," says Dr. Elliott Albers, Georgia State's Director of the Center for Brain Sciences and Health and a leading research investigator on the STC.

In addition to providing fertile ground for discovery on the frontiers of neuroscience, the STC will furnish invaluable learning opportunities for Georgia faculty and students at all levels of the educational pipeline. As home to the highest density of minority colleges in the country, Atlanta is well positioned to address the national shortage of minorities in science. Morehouse Medical School already has an excellent Neuroscience Institute and other Atlanta University Center schools are developing neuroscience programs for undergraduates. The STC will vastly expand the research arena for the brightest students.

"As a former director of the National Science Foundation," says Dr. Walter E. Massey, President of Morehouse College, "I am especially pleased that the agency and the scientific community, through the peer review process, supports this enterprise."

The STC will work with Atlanta Public Schools, providing professional development opportunities for teachers of kindergarten through twelfth grade. This includes research visits and internships in laboratories, new curricular materials, and workshops in inquiry-based and hypothesis-driven science. Instructional materials will be distributed to local schools by LearnLink, a web-based information system at Emory, and through hands-on lab experiences on Georgia State's BioBus, a 30- foot, travelling state-of-the-art laboratory that supplements the regular science curriculum in Georgia elementary schools.

Efforts will be made to target students early for careers in behavioral neuroscience by building better bridges to graduate training with programs for undergraduates at all participating schools, including summer internships for first and second year college students and expansion of Emory's undergraduate major in neuroscience and behavioral biology to students at all participating colleges.

In addition to its mission in research and education, the STC contains a knowledge-transfer component for bringing research findings to industry and the public. To help educate journalists and disseminate information about advances in behavioral neuroscience, workshops will be established for science and medical writers. The center will exemplify a marriage of industrial, governmental and institutional partners.

The Georgia Research Alliance, with its mandate to foster collaboration between research universities and the state, has committed matching funds to the STC. Support from the city of Atlanta has also been strong. Letters of support for the grant were signed by all members of the Georgia congressional delegation.

Lt. Governor Mark Taylor says, "As I said to the NSF site visit team at Emory last spring, the state is an enthusiastic partner in the strategy to increase Georgia's standing in science and technology. I look forward to participating in this important work through my longstanding support of the Georgia Research Alliance." GRA Vice President Mike Cassidy will serve on the new center's board.

The Atlanta Regional Consortium on Higher Education (ARCHE) also strongly supports the STC and will assist in cross-institutional credit transfers and use of support facilities. Industry partnerships include Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Neurocrine Biosciences, GenoPlex, Inc., Chemicon, Inc., Renalogics, Inc. and SoftArc. They will provide resources to develop research tools and to support the basic research efforts of the STC.

Based on dollars per year, the STC award is the largest ever received through Emory, which will divide the funding with its partners in the consortium.

"This grant recognizes and endorses the extraordinary collaboration between these Atlanta area schools, whose resources and synergy do so much to make this a great city," says Emory President William M. Chace. We are proud that so many components of Emory are part of this new center headed by Dr. Insel."

[Contact: Kate Egan ]

10-Aug-1999  from the UniSci Daily Java News Ticker