Renowned Neuroscientist to Lead FAU’s New Brain Institute

Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., a renowned neuroscientist and leading expert in synaptic pharmacology, neurotransmitter transporters, and neurogenetics, is at the helm of the newly-formed FAU Brain Institute.

By gisele galoustian | 5/10/2016

An internationally renowned neuroscientist and leading expert in synaptic pharmacology, neurotransmitter transporters, and neurogenetics, has joined Florida Atlantic University as the executive director of the newly-formed FAU Brain Institute. Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D. comes to FAU from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine where he held the positions of Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry, director of the Vanderbilt Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research, as well as the director of the Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Training Program in Functional Neurogenomics. From 1996-2011, he served as the director of the Vanderbilt Center for Molecular Neuroscience, an entity that spawned the Vanderbilt Brain Institute and its top-ranked neuroscience Ph.D. program.

Blakely’s primary appointment will be in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, providing a presence of the medical school on the John D. MacArthur Campus in Jupiter for the first time.

“Vanderbilt University has emerged as one of the nation’s leading academic centers in neuroscience, and we are delighted to welcome its former director and one of the most accomplished neuroscientists in the world to Florida Atlantic University,” said Daniel C. Flynn, Ph.D., FAU’s vice president for research. “With Dr. Blakely at the helm of our Brain Institute, we will advance our center to be at the cutting-edge of understanding and treating neurological and mental health disorders that afflict us globally.”  

Neuroscience is one of four of FAU’s “pillars” that guide the institution’s goals and strategic actions to develop and implement programs that will generate knowledge to benefit society. FAU’s investment in the Brain Institute under the neuroscience pillar arises in the context of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative, a major federal research initiative seeking to develop new tools and insights into how the nervous system supports perception, memory, learning, mood and movement.

As executive director of the university-wide Brain Institute, Blakely will build on existing neuroscience centers and programs within FAU, enhancing existing resources with the addition of new faculty hires and enlarged financial support. In this new position, Blakely also will pursue opportunities for research collaboration and educational relationships with regional, national and international partners, including Scripps Florida, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Marcus Neuroscience Institute, and the FAU Research and Development Authority, among others.

“Florida Atlantic University has positioned itself as a hub of cutting-edge, multidisciplinary neuroscience activity and I am extremely pleased to be joining the university at this critical time to help foster neuroscience initiatives,” said Blakely. “I look forward to working with the university’s outstanding faculty as well as external collaborators and community leaders to illuminate the many complexities of the brain, to identify new ways to treat devastating brain disorders and to share the excitement and promise of our research with the public.” 

For more than two decades, Blakely’s lab has explored the molecular mechanisms that underlie brain function and drug responses, focusing on how transporter proteins acting at the synapse insure high fidelity neural signaling. The group has used a combination of genetic, molecular, and physiological approaches to elucidate mechanisms by which transporter proteins insure normal brain function and how brain diseases arise from the dysfunction of these molecules. Blakely’s group is responsible for the cloning of multiple neurotransmitter transporter genes, and has discovered multiple signaling pathways that regulate transporter expression and function. His team has uncovered multiple instances where mutations in brain transporters lead to changes in physiology and behavior, increasing risk for neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, ADHD and depression. Blakely and his colleagues also have sought to understand how existing drugs, including antidepressants (e.g. SSRIs) and psychostimulants (e.g. cocaine, amphetamine) carry out their actions, and how a better understanding of synaptic molecules can lead to novel medications. This research has led them to develop novel animal models of brain disorders where the dysfunction of neuronal signaling genes can be studied at high resolution.

Among Blakey’s numerous distinctions, awards and recognition are his receipt of a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), two Distinguished Investigator Awards from the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation, the Julius Axelrod Award from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In addition, Blakely has published nearly 300 research articles and reviews, and has a number of awarded patents to his credit. He also is affiliated with numerous professional societies including the Society for Neuroscience, the Genetics Society of America, and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. Blakely’s research is funded by multiple grants from the NIH, private foundations and industry contracts, and he recently chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors for the NIMH. Blakely’s educational efforts have included leadership roles at both the graduate and post-graduate levels and has included the training of more than 30 master’s and Ph.D. level students.