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Collaboration is key to new program in the neurosciences

USC’s HEADCO Neuroscience Neural, Informational & Behavioral Sciences (NIBS) Program is an interdepartmental program that spurs collaboration and learning beyond department lines. Now, a new plan will unite HSC neuroscientists and the HEADCO Neuroscience NIBS program, hopefully catalyzing the same kind of synergy between researchers on the two campuses.

“We’ve established a more formal connection with the USC Neuroscience Program on the University Park Campus that will support new neurobiology graduate level classes, a new group of students and a stronger relationship between UPC and HSC neuroscientists and students,” said Cheryl M. Craft, professor and chair of the department of cell and neurobiology at the School of Medicine.

“Although individual collaborations have developed over the years, this is a step to unite and build an intercampus program to include all faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows interested in in the broad fields of neuroscience,” Craft said. The plan should go a long way towards “building stronger ties between the campuses,” said Craft, who helped coordinate the agreement with Dick Thompson, professor and director of the neuroscience program, which was established in 1994.

“I think the concept is excellent, and certainly something we want to encourage,” said Cornelius Sullivan, USC vice provost for research. “Neuroscientists on both campuses are doing important fundamental work, in two areas core to USC research – basic life sciences and medical sciences. I suspect that this partnership will become one of the premier cross-campus collaborations,” he said.

Neuroscience, in which researchers trace the workings of the brain and nervous system from the molecular level to the behavioral, doesn’t fit easily into any one department – or even one school. One of today’s hottest scientific fields, it includes researchers from cell biology, genetics, neurology, psychophysics, psychiatry, pharmacology, computer modeling and many others.

Craft and Leslie Weiner, chair and professor of neurology at the School of Medicine, have been appointed to the NIBS Executive Committee. Roberta Brinton, associate professor of molecular pharmacology and toxicology at the USC School of Pharmacy, also serves on the Executive Committee. Other HSC faculty will participate on the recruitment and graduate admissions committee this spring. The NIBS Web site will soon be hyperlinked to Web sites of HSC neuroscience researchers, so that potential new students will be aware of the neuro-related resources HSC offers.

One of the other goals of the new partnership is to set up teleconferencing so that students from both campuses can participate in seminars or classes, without the commute. Another plan is for the HSC faculty to host some of the “neurolunches” in which doctoral candidates give seminars on recent research.

Craft describes the NIBS program as “top-notch” in work on molecular modeling of the brain, computational neuroscience, neurophysiological studies and aging research.

“What we add to their dynamic program is an emphasis on neurological disease, and molecular neurogenetic and neuropharmacologic approaches to studying the nervous system,” Craft said.

HSC neuroscientists bring another strength to the partnership as well. Craft oversees a $2.2 million resources grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that has been earmarked to build up the neurosciences at the School of Medicine.

So far, the money has enabled the medical school to hire three new neuroscience junior faculty, with ongoing recruitments for three more in various departments. There are plans to establish a Neurogenetics Core Facility at HSC. And, other funds provide resources for research and teaching assitant jobs, for which all NIBS students will be eligible.

Collaboration is key to new program in the neurosciences

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