BIBS/NPNI New Frontiers Awards Support Collaborative Research Projects

December 17, 2012

Three interdisciplinary teams spanning basic science and clinical medicine have received New Frontiers research grants from the Brown Institute for Brain Science (BIBS) and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute (NPNI). This is the first time that these two organizations have jointly funded research grants.

The BIBS/NPNI New Frontiers Program enables inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional research teams to pursue early-stage, high-risk research. These teams include co-leaders from a Brown basic science department and from one of Brown’s affiliated hospitals. The awards are $30,000 for one year, and include a contribution from the home department of each co-leader.

Collaboration between BIBS and NPNI previously led to a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Translational Neuroscience. BIBS and NPNI also have provided seed funding, along with the Brown Department of Psychiatry, to RI CART, the Rhode Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment. RI CART is a statewide consortium of researchers, physicians, care providers, educators, and parents working together to improve research and treatment for autism. The New Frontiers Program is the latest example of the benefits of collaboration between these organizations.

Nine applications vied for the first round of New Frontiers awards and a faculty committee broadly representing Brown’s basic science and clinical departments reviewed them.  Awards were made to those applications judged to be innovative, collaborative research projects with strong potential to attract future external funding.  The three awards went to:

Stephanie Jones (Neuroscience) and Wael Asaad (Neurosurgery) – “Targeting Deep Brain Stimulation to Minimize Cortical Beta Rhythms in Parkinson’s Disease based on novel computational modeling predictions” 

This project combines Dr. Jones’ expertise in computational neuroscience with Dr. Asaad’s expertise in neurosurgery and human electrophysiology.  They will use electrophysiological recordings from patients to test a novel hypothesis about the origins of cortical beta rhythms as part of an effort to maximize the benefits from deep brain stimulation in patients being treated for Parkinson’s disease or Essential Tremor.

Chris Moore (Neuroscience) and Carl Saab (Neurosurgery) – “Thalamic Reticular Pain Bursting” 

Dr. Moore and Dr. Saab will partner on a study of pain processing in the thalamus and cortex.  Moore’s lab specializes in optogenetics and the electrophysiology of neuronal bursting, whereas Saab’s lab excels at electrophysiology and rodent behavior related to painful stimuli.  These approaches will be combined to develop new ways to selectively modulate thalamic circuitry, in vivo, in order to explore mechanisms of chronic pain.

Henry Querfurth (Neurology) and John Marshall (MPPB) – “Novel Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease by Restoring Insulin/Akt Signaling” 

Dr. Querfurth and Dr. Marshall will test a small molecule that may reverse the insulin insensitivity that occurs in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The molecule appears to restore normal mitochondrial function, which could lead to a novel therapeutic strategy for treating this disease.  Dr. Querfurth and his associate, Dr. Han-Kyu Lee, will use their skills with in vitro techniques to develop miniaturized, cell-free assays that can test this compound and others with similar structure.  He will then validate the findings using live cell assays.  Dr. Marshall, an expert electrophysiologist, will test the effect of this molecule and others in its class on synaptic function and long term potentiation in two mouse models of AD.

A second deadline for submission to this program is coming up.  Applications are due March 15, 2013, and funds have been secured for two awards in this round.  If you have questions contact John Davenport or John Robson.