New Center for NeuroScience officially launches

By Staff

The University of Colorado School of Medicine officially launched its Center for NeuroScience last week with a keynote address from the National Institutes of Health’s Story Landis, Ph.D., who vowed to fight for more research dollars.

Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, spoke about the growing field of neuroscience and the challenge of funding research in the current economic climate.

“The NIH is absolutely committed to funding basic fundamental research, not just translational research,” Landis told the audience gathered in the Research 2 building on the Anschutz Medical Campus. “I am obsessed with the federal budget and how to keep science funding afloat.”

Landis noted that only cancer receives more funding than neuroscience research. She also said there was an explosion in knowledge of the genetic factors behind disorders like ALS, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The biggest challenge, she said, was finding the right balance between hypothetical science and discovery science.

Before Landis spoke, a mini-symposium featured four distinguished scientists. Stephen Davies, Ph.D., discussed spinal cord repair; Amy Brooks-Kayal, M.D., talked about epilepsy; Timothy Vollmer, M.D., discussed multiple sclerosis and Diego Restrepo, Ph.D., presented research on smell and taste.

The new Center for NeuroScience (CNS) is a collection of over 100 doctors and researchers from a wide array of disciplines working to help translate theoretical science into therapies, treatments and cures for neurological disorders.

“This is an opportunity to do great translational research with a clinical endpoint,” said John Sladek, Ph.D., director for outreach and development at CNS. “We will take it from the bench to the bedside. Our goal is to bring all of the research being done all over this campus together.”

The center is headed by Restrepo, who is a nationally known expert on the science of smell and taste.

According to Restrepo, CNS already has scientists from specialties that include stem cell research, psychiatry, dentistry, prosthetics and pharmacy.

“The whole center is like the brain itself,” he said. “There are all these parts functioning on their own while simultaneously working together toward the same goal.”

The CU School of Medicine has a worldwide reputation for neuroscience but mostly for the work of individual scientists. Restrepo believes that combining that expertise and having a center where everyone is connected will only enhance the university’s reputation.

Sladek agreed, saying the need for neurological research has never been higher.

“Right now 40 percent of all Americans have a neurological disorder,” he said. “By mid-century, 20 million to 25 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease.”

Sladek and Restrepo hope CNS will ultimately develop new therapies and drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Down syndrome and other neurological disorders.

School of Medicine researchers already have made headlines with advances in spinal cord injury repair, stopping the symptoms of Parkinson’s in mice, identifying links between Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, furthering the understanding of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis and ferreting out the mysteries of our senses.

“We would like to prevent the progression of neurological disease in patients,” said Sladek, who served as founding vice-chancellor for research at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center from 2001 to 2006. “Can you imagine what that would do for their quality of life?”

CNS, which already is funding pilot research grants to strengthen collaborations, does not have its own building. Sladek and Restrepo hope those interested in the center’s research will consider making donations.

“If there is a big donor interested in putting their name on a new neuroscience center, we would be happy to oblige,” Sladek said.

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