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Message from the Executive Director
Message from the Executive Director

Welcome to the 2024 Edition of Masterminds

Welcome to the latest edition of Masterminds. As in prior years, we highlight the cutting-edge research of the faculty and trainees affiliated with the Florida Atlantic Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute that propels our understanding of the brain’s complexities. We connect the reader to the efforts to move discoveries to the clinic, providing “a-ha” moments, discovering talents you might not have known we have, akin to the toddler realizing they might move the world. We also feature the award-winning members of our 2023 class in the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) and note the ongoing efforts of some of the other high-achieving graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who energize our labs. Lastly, but certainly not least, we remind you of our committed community engagement programming that is reaching thousands of young and mature minds each year. Readers who wish to catch up on our full series of Masterminds issues can find them at ibrain.fau. edu or via the QR code on the next page.

A highlight of this issue is the Brain Institute’s collaboration with the Ryan Licht Sang Foundation for Bipolar Disorder’s amazing art exhibit, Insight VI. The exhibit represents the vision of Dusty and Joyce Sang, honoring their son Ryan, whose bipolar disorder took him from us, tragically, at age 24. Displayed at major galleries in Chicago, Ill., and Palm Beach, Fla., the foundation has provided Florida Atlantic with a special opportunity to host this one-of-a-kind exhibit at the Brain Institute in Jupiter, Fla. A special showing for the Florida Atlantic community is slated for March 15, followed by free, public opportunities on March 16, 18 and 19. We look forward to seeing you.

Researchers continue to chronicle the rise of an artificial intelligence-neurosciencephilosophy continuum at Florida Atlantic, with particular reference to last year’s Mindfest program. The program is hosted by Susan Schneider, Ph.D., director of the Florida Atlantic Center for the Future Mind and Dietrich Professor in the Philosophy of Mind. The center is a collaboration between the Brain Institute and Florida Atlantic’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. The 2023 event featured leading theorists and philosophers, including David Chalmers, Ph.D., professor, New York University, and Stephen Wolfram, Ph.D., computer scientist and mathematician, and creator of the program Mathematica. To further seed and lead the expansion of the discipline, the Palm Health Foundation funded awards in computational brain science and health for five fellowships to talented Florida Atlantic graduate students, whose inspired efforts and committed mentors are chronicled in these pages.

This past year, the Institute’s continued efforts, through its Neuroscience Graduate Program, to attract first-rate graduate trainees was given a boost with a gift from Anna Ewing and John Capotosto, whose generosity allowed us to provide stipendenhancing fellowships to four outstanding students entering as the class of 2023. With interests ranging from computational neuroscience to neuroimmunology to neurodegenerative disorders, these awards, were key reasons these brainiacs joined our program. An additional Presidential Award from the Florida Atlantic Graduate College to one of our trainees allowed the Ewing/Capotosto gift to be extended to the entire entering class. As we write, we are interviewing an even larger applicant pool for the 2024 class.

Our fingers are crossed that the tireless efforts of our staff, faculty and students in bringing the NGP to national recognition is rewarded with additional stories of success in 2024. While many of the activities of the Brain Institute faculty and trainees plumbed the depths of brain science fundamentals, others took opportunities to move discoveries to the clinic. We explore the path that Brain Institute scientists tread to develop new therapeutics drawn from discoveries in computational space, via gene cloning and with insights into how to transform FDA approved medications into new therapeutics for devastating brain disorders. A common, and often bewildering step in moving basic research to the point where it may relieve suffering of those with brain disorders is the effort to secure the intellectual property rights needed to encourage companies to spend the millions of dollars to turn translate discoveries into therapies. We illuminate the partnership between our researchers and Dana Vouglitois, director of the Florida Atlantic Office for Technology Development, which has led to triumphs of securing patents.

At the next stage in the process, taking patented discoveries to the clinic, we highlight the efforts of Gregg Fields, Ph.D., Brain Institute member, who splits his spare time between his role as executive director of the Florida Atlantic Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention and as interim vice president for Florida Atlantic’s Division of Research. What Fields has led is truly inspirational. In collaboration with biotechnology company Insightec and clinical researcher Lloyd Zucker, M.D., Delray Beach Medical Center, the team has now applied focused ultrasound technology to allow for the penetration of medications into the brain that are otherwise stuck in the bloodstream, with implications for diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to brain cancer. As if that’s not enough, this year saw the arrival of Michael Dobbs, M.D., chair of the Clinical Neurosciences Department at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine. It’s certain that his faculty will make many exciting advances in the treatment of brain disorders which we will eagerly profile in future editions of Masterminds.

Once again, we provide engaging community educational programs in brain science and health, ranging from brain science lessons for children to lectures for adult learners. Although activities span the year, including our ASCEND and MobileMinds programs, a major focus of our efforts is our annual Brainy Days program, a full month of lectures and hands-on activities, sponsored this year by the Palm Health Foundation and the Cox Science Center and Aquarium. Two programs within the 2023 Brainy Days program deserve particular mention. The first was a compelling and fun lecture by naturalist and author Sy Montgomery, centered on her book “The Soul of an Octopus,” which included a book signing. The second, featured a partnership of the Brain Institute, the Jupiter Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and the Mind, Music and Movement Foundation for Neurological Disorders, involving science lectures on brain plasticity, neurodegenerative disease gene discovery, and a spirited program involving residents of Palm Beach County with Parkinson’s disease demonstrating elements of dance and choral therapy. We learned so much and thank all who participated.

Welcome to the 2024 edition of Masterminds! Go team go!

Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Florida Atlantic Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute
Director, Neuroscience Ph.D. Program David J. S. Nicholson Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience Professor of Biomedical Science, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine

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