By Bethany Alex
The brain is dizzying in its complexity, challenging the brightest neuroscientists to understand the workings of even the tiniest patch of tissue, which can contain millions of nerve cells and billions of connections, that can change shape within seconds. As a result, headway in understanding and treating brain disorders moves agonizingly slowly. And help is needed now.
- Nearly 100 million Americans are impacted by at least one of more than 1,000 brain disorders.
- The centers for Disease Control estimates that one in every 44 children has autism spectrum disorder.
- Nearly six million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease.
- Depression impacts one in every three American adults, with suicide rates rising 30% over the last decade.
“Each of these disorders involve changes in the brain that can ultimately rob many Americans of their memories, independence, productivity and often, their lives,” according to Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., executive director, FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute. “I’ve simply lost too many to take this situation lightly.”
To add muscle to the effort, the Brain Institute, in collaboration with the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, has launched the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP). The program seeks to attract and train the next generation of interdisciplinary brain scientists so they can pursue a career-long effort to demystify the brain and pursue new treatments and preventions of life-altering
FAU’s NGP, one of only two comprehensive neuroscience graduate programs in Florida, will combine broad didactic training that runs from molecules to mind with the cutting-edge research experiences needed to explain the basis of neural complexity and the origins and treatments of brain disorders, according to Blakely, who also serves the director of the NPG. The hidden complexities of the brain continue to drive the development of new technologies that students must be prepared to utilize, if not invent, he added.
“This challenge fueled our efforts to develop a program oriented to supplying the technically sophisticated brain science workforce of the future. If we build it right, our graduates will have outstanding opportunities to have successful, independent careers while they help make the world a much better place. … Indeed, neuroscience is among the fastest growing in terms of job opportunities and the salaries within the field are among the highest in the sciences,” Blakely said. “Our leadership clearly sees the NGP as essential to the university’s effort to become a preeminent research university.”
In addition, the program draws on faculty expertise from FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, College of Engineering and Computer Science, College of Education and the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, as well as from affiliate faculty
at Scripps Research and the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience. The NGP initiated activities in January of 2022, and will welcome its first cohort in the Fall of 2022. In the first year of their program, students don’t immediately join the lab of someone whose research they may only have recently become acquainted with, an approach that is particularly important for graduates from undergraduate programs without extensive research opportunities, or where their exploration across the wide expanse of neuroscience has been limited, as for example happens when students pursue other time-intensive opportunities for personal growth besides science.
“The program provides trainees with the flexibility to evaluate research projects and mentors prior to making a final decision as to the direction of their doctoral research journey,” said Teresa Wilcox, Ph.D., Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “NGP students can identify their primary research from among the program’s three areas of research and education emphasis – cellular, molecular and biomedical neuroscience; sensorimotor, cognitive and behavioral neuroscience; and theoretical and computational neuroscience – with each area presenting the opportunity to work across disciplines that are leading advances in neuroscience today.