Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rutgers opens Brain Health Institute, a research collaborative to study neurological disorders

From NJ Newsroom:

Rutgers is moving forward on a new research collaborative called the Brain Health Institute (BHI), designed to bring fresh insight into neurological diseases — from brain injuries suffered by the young to neurodegenerative disorders that affect the elderly — and their potential cure.

As a first step in moving this major initiative ahead, the David R. Clare and Margaret C. Clare Foundation has given support for a top-level administrative director.

Negotiations are under way with pharmaceutical firms to endow internationally recognized scientific directors of three principal research areas: autism, Alzheimer's disease, and auditory aging. Next on the list — the scheduling of a series of high-profile seminars and scientific conferences.

The institute is the brainchild of Robin Davis (left in picture), executive vice dean of Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences, and Karl Herrup, chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, both distinguished neuroscientists.

The idea is to unite the Rutgers faculty who have deep strengths in neuroscience, genetics, and related disciplines and to create a powerful, productive partnership with New Jersey's life sciences industry with the goal of accelerating research on neurological disease and disorders, Davis said.

"We feel this is an important initiative for the state," Davis added. "It consolidates the benefits of academic research with the economic power of the New Jersey pharmaceutical industry."

President Richard L. McCormick has identified the institute as one of Rutgers' key fundraising goals — it is a high-priority initiative of the recently launched Our Rutgers, Our Future campaign — and the university has already assembled an impressive corporate advisory board for the research center, with members from Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, and Forest Laboratories, among others.

Pooling resources has advantages for both the university and the pharmaceutical industry. The latter has seen research productivity slip dramatically in the past decade, and cost-cutting has taken a toll on basic research in corporate labs. Rutgers neuroscience researchers, meanwhile, have built national reputations on an individual level, but could benefit from the potentially greater rewards that come from a more collaborative effort.

The collaborative approach dovetails with the federal National Institutes of Health's emphasis on "bench to bedside" solutions, which fuse basic research with clinical applications. The idea is to tap the best of both worlds. For example, Rutgers is strong in foundational research, the methodical uncovering of disease mechanisms, while the pharmaceutical industry excels in drug discovery and development.

As part of the Brain Health Institute, Rutgers researchers will continue to do noteworthy, grounded research. But they'll have access to resources to engage in more high-risk, high-impact work. Davis compared it to research at Google, where innovation and teamwork are fostered to catalyze advances that benefit their users. "Our vision for the BHI is to engage in research that, if successful, could change the world," she said.

Down the road, Rutgers plans to raise money for a building to house the BHI, a place for faculty from the university and scientists from the private sector to conduct their research under the same roof.

The idea is create an environment that protects intellectual property but provides a means for discussion and collaboration that would be unique.

"The kind of intellectual ferment that can spark rapid development and deployment of new ideas doesn't happen enough in New Jersey, and it is the aim of the BHI to create a fundamentally new approach to clinical research," Davis said.