Ning Quan, Ph.D.

Collaboration on Mind Matters

Brain Institute Launches Program in Neuroimmunology and Glial Biology

Three months after Ning Quan, Ph.D., arrived at FAU, he applied for and received a $1.7 million grant to study interactions between the immune system, the brain and behavior.

That grant, from National Institutes of Health, foreshadowed a new program to be rolled out under the auspices of the FAU Brain Institute — the Program in Neuroimmunology and Glial Biology (PNGB). This is the institute’s first named program, with Quan as director.

“Dr. Quan is a very prominent scientist in the area of psychoneuroimmunology,” said Randy D. Blakely, Ph.D., the Brain Institute’s executive director, who recruited Quan to become a professor of biomedical science in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science after collaborating with him on a number of high-profile studies and grants. “He’s an eager collaborator and leader, and he has already begun to engage this community and bring it together.”

The PNGB will build on recent developments in psychoneuroimmunology. This multidisciplinary science explores the mechanisms by which the immune system activates the nervous system and produces psychological disease states and changes in behavior. PNGB will also encompass neuroimmune research oriented to brain cancer, brain trauma and fundamental brain mechanisms that do not involve psychiatric disease, as well as basic research into glial cells – major brain cells that support the function of neurons and that also participate in neuroimmune activities.

The program is designed to engage scientists from a wide range of disciplines and institutions. At the beginning, Quan will work on bringing faculty together, identifying common interests and collaborative projects, and determining what tools they’ll need to carry out their work. The Brain Institute will support the program’s collaborative research initiatives and help Quan obtain needed technologies, through grants and philanthropy. Program members include faculty from FAU, Scripps Research and the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, as well as their postdocs and grad students.

The program will initially focus on areas where FAU research is particularly strong, like depression, cognitive dysfunction and pain. Eventually, Blakely expects Quan to grow the program into an endowed research center spanning multiple FAU campuses.

The field of psychoneuroimmunology requires a broad knowledge base. Collaboration, synergy and shared resources, knowledge and tools will be the lifeblood nourishing the program as it grows. “I've been in this field for 20 years, and I can tell you, it's unlike any other,” Quan said. “I speak the language of inflammatory cytokine signaling, but others in the program are more fluent in the language of synapses and circuits. The goals of our researchers are to learn each other’s language, get out of our little boxes, educate each other and design experiments that reflect more accurately the true complexity of the brain. In this intersection of two complex fields, it sometimes seems like we each are speaking in foreign tongues, but the more we communicate, the more we see the remarkable opportunities for major advances.”

Prior to FAU, Quan was a tenured professor at Ohio State University. His eminence in the field routinely generates international collaborations. Recently, he served as a co-investigator on a study published in the journal Brain Pathology, revealing an exciting new role for inflammation in mechanisms linked to Parkinson’s disease (To view the article, click here), authored by a scholar at China’s Xuzhou Medical College. With the formation of the program, Blakely and Quan see many more collaborations to follow, from all around the world. Blakely, for example, is now working with colleagues in Israel to test an experimental therapy for reducing mood disorders associated with Alzheimer’s disease, based on suppressing neuroinflammation — work incorporating a novel animal model made by Quan.

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