Logo for University of Iowa Health Care This logo represents the University of Iowa Health Care

Iowa Neuroscience Institute awards $2.4 million to Research Programs of Excellence

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Iowa Neuroscience Institute has awarded a total of $2.4 million to four research teams to carry out Research Programs of Excellence over the next three years. Funded by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the research ranges from fundamental biology to translational studies and is focused on schizophrenia, autism, dementia, and neuroplasticity.

The grants help research teams lay the necessary groundwork for obtaining major national funding, including grants from the National Institutes of Health. The program also aims to build and foster diverse teams of talented investigators whose collaborative work will accelerate the pace of discovery.


Iowa Neuroscience Institute sign


The following four projects were selected after a competitive application and review of 19 proposals.


Krystal Parker, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry

Bengi Baran, PhD, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences

Aislinn Williams, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry

Marie Gaine, PhD, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapies

Amanda McCleery, PhD, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences

This team carries on the legacy of Nancy Andreasen, MD, PhD, in schizophrenia research with plans for collaborative, highly translational research to elucidate cerebellar mechanisms that contribute to schizophrenia pathophysiology, and to further develop cerebellar-targeted therapies. The researchers have already established a robust working group comprising cutting-edge brain imaging, electrophysiology, genetic and epigenetic research, circuit level mechanistic rodent studies, and neuromodulation-based therapy development. Together, they will push the boundaries of their individual labs, investigating the genetic and epigenetic factors that influence abnormalities including sleep oscillations and cognitive deficits.


Exceptional ability and autism: insights into cognitive divergence

Jake Michaelson, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, and the Roy J. Carver Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Thomas Nickl-Jockschat, MD, associate professor of psychiatry

Susan Assouline, PhD, director of the Belin-Blank Center for Talented and Gifted Education, and the Myron and Jacqueline N. Blank Endowed Chair in Gifted Education

Tim Koscik, PhD, research assistant professor of psychiatry

Vince Magnotta, PhD, professor of radiology

This team seeks to identify the cognitive, neurobiological, and genetic basis of twice-exceptionality. Linked closely with the new Hawk-IDDRC, the project will expand knowledge about this critically underserved population and deepen understanding of the relationship between exceptional ability and psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders. The team concentrates expertise in neuroscience and gifted education to confront disparities in both scientific knowledge and available services for individuals with autism and exceptional intellectual ability.


Sleep, Mood, and Arousal in Alzheimer's disease and Lewy Body Dementia: Serotonin Hypothesis (SMASH)

Catherine Marcinkiewcz, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience and pharmacology

Georgina Aldridge, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology

Veena Prahlad, PhD, associate professor of biology

Natalie Denburg, PhD, associate professor of neurology

Gordon Buchanan, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology

Marco Hefti, MD, assistant professor of pathology

Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia pose an ever-increasing public health concern as the population ages, affecting more than 6 million Americans. Both conditions are characterized by the accumulation of specific proteins in the brain. This team seeks to identify the anatomical origins of this protein buildup as well as clinical biomarkers of early-stage disease. Earlier diagnosis may enable interventions that slow or stop cognitive and memory impairments.


Neuroplasticity in the human brain: from molecules to circuits to systems

Aaron Boes, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and neurology

Mark Blumberg, PhD, professor of psychological and brain sciences

Thomas Nickl-Jockschat, MD, associate professor of psychiatry

The human brain’s ability to undergo dynamic alterations in function, referred to as neuroplasticity, is essential for learning, memory, and recovery of function after injury or disease. This project brings together three teams of UI researchers who propose that functional recovery after a brain lesion relies on acute and chronic reorganization at sites that are in close proximity to the lesion and at sites that are remote but connected to the injured tissue. Controlling and enhancing neuroplasticity will facilitate better therapeutic strategies for individuals affected by neurological and psychiatric disorders.


Psychiatric and neurological disorders are devastating to individuals, their families, and society. Created with the transformative grant of $45 million from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the INI seeks revolutionary discoveries in fundamental neuroscience to translate an understanding of how the brain works into clinical treatments for disorders of the brain and nervous system.