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INI awards $4.6 million to Research Programs of Excellence

Ted Abel LabSeven multidisciplinary projects will advance diverse areas of neuroscience

Only established in late 2016, the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI) at the University of Iowa is wasting no time making good on its promise to elevate the university’s brain research enterprise. In awarding its first round of funding – a total of $4.6 million over five years - the INI is supporting innovative, multidisciplinary projects focused on diverse areas of neuroscience. The funded research ranges from basic neuronal biology to translational studies for improving treatment of blindness, neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The INI was created in November 2016 with a transformational $45 million grant to the UI from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust. Building on the UI’s long tradition of exceptional brain research, the new institute aims to assemble diverse teams of scientists and clinicians to tackle some of the toughest problems in neuroscience.

When the grant was first announced, Troy Ross, executive administrator of the Carver Charitable Trust, expressed his hope that the investment would “serve as a magnet, of sorts, to attract additional, accomplished investigators to the university to form an influential core group of scientists with the potential to substantially advance this emerging field of research over the next decade and beyond.”

The funding will enhance research infrastructure and support outstanding faculty though endowed positions and research grants. One funding mechanism designed to support institute members demonstrating outstanding research leadership is the Research Programs of Excellence Award, which recently awarded seven new grants to INI researchers.

Five grants will fund Research Programs of Excellence; four will receive $750,000 over five years, and one will receive $1 million over five years. In addition, two, two-year, $300,000 grants will support Junior Research Programs of Excellence.

Developed under the leadership of INI director Ted Abel, PhD, these awards serve several purposes. In identifying and funding outstanding projects, 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 who can work synergistically and accelerate the pace of discovery.

A multidisciplinary approach is a key strength of these projects, which draw together researchers from the traditional neuroscience disciplines of neurology, neurosurgery, psychiatry, and psychology, but also include biomedical engineers, computer scientists, and experts in brain imaging, genetics, and cell biology.

Research Programs of Excellence

Neuromodulation Research Program of Excellence

Nandakumar NarayananNandakumar Narayanan, MD, PhD, will lead the Neuromodulation Research Program of Excellence. The team will investigate brain stimulation, or neuromodulation, a technique that alters neuronal activity with pulses of electricity. The Iowa researchers are exploring the idea that the frequency of pulses is key to their effect. They hope to identify how frequency-specific stimulation to different brain regions can influence motor, cognitive, and emotional symptoms associated with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. The overarching goal is to develop and hone next-generation brain stimulation therapies.




The Bipolar Disorder Research Program of Excellence

John WemmieThe Bipolar Disorder Research Program of Excellence, led by John Wemmie, MD, PhD, will use brain imaging, genetics and epigenetics, circuit level mechanistic studies, and neuromodulation to probe brain circuits that regulate mood state and that are disrupted in bipolar disorder. In particular, the team will focus on the role of the cerebellum in bipolar disorder. Information from these studies will help develop new diagnostic and therapeutic tools to help patients with bipolar disorder.




The Composition and Trafficking of Neuronal Ion Channels Research Program of Excellence

Chris AhernThe Composition and Trafficking of Neuronal Ion Channels Research Program of Excellence, led by Chris Ahern, PhD, will investigate the molecular and genetic maintenance of electrical signaling, with a focus on sodium channel complexes. This work informs the development of new therapies for the treatment of diseases such as inherited and acquired pain disorders, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. 




Science Behind Curing Heritable Blindness Research Program of Excellence

Val Sheffield & Ed StoneVal Sheffield, MD, PhD, and Ed Stone, MD, PhD, will lead the Science Behind Curing Heritable Blindness Research Program of Excellence, studying the genetics and disease mechanisms underlying inherited blindness and seeking to translate discoveries into therapies including gene therapy, pharmaceuticals, and genome editing.




The Mitochondrial Dynamics and Calcium Cycling in Neuronal Injury, Excitability and Plasticity Research Program of Excellence

Stefan Strack & Yuriy UsachevThe Mitochondrial Dynamics and Calcium Cycling in Neuronal Injury, Excitability and Plasticity Research Program of Excellence, led by Stefan Strack, PhD, and Yuriy Usachev, PhD, will use state-of-the-art imaging techniques and behavioral analysis in novel transgenic mouse models to learn more about the effects of mitochondrial dynamics and Ca2+ cycling in the brain at the molecular and cellular levels. The team will also explore how this information could be useful in developing therapies for neurodegenerative disease and epilepsy.  



 Junior Research Programs of Excellence


Hanna StevensHanna Stevens, MD, PhD, will study how prenatal environmental factors, including maternal stress, environmental exposures, and genes affect early brain development, with the goal of understanding how these factors influence the risk of subsequent behavioral and psychiatric disorders.





Jan WesselJan Wessel, PhD, will investigate cognitive and motor control in health and disease with a view to understanding how motor and cognitive activity is optimally geared toward changing situational demands, and how age- and disease-related impairments to these functions can be alleviated.





Monday, July 24, 2017