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New lab space encourages culture of collaboration

Michael Lutter Andrew Pieper John Wemmie

Photo: Psychiatry Department Researchers Michael Lutter, MD, PhD, Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, and John Wemmie, MD, PhD, stand outside the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, a new interdisciplinary research facility on the UIHC campus. 


Associate Writer, Department of Psychiatry

Valuable discoveries can be made when great minds work together.

As several Department of Psychiatry researchers move their laboratories to the new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, a big step on the journey that is the University of Iowa Neurosciences Institute has been taken. This, along with the arrival of numerous researchers from other UI departments, will encourage an innovative culture of interdisciplinary research at the PBDB.

Psychiatry Department Researcher Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, is one of several investigators moving their lab space to the PBDB who understands one major benefit of the facility. He says the proximity of interdisciplinary scientists with related interests will facilitate collaboration between investigators.

The PBDB is no small project. The building, which includes six above ground levels and three below, is connected to the Carver Biomedical Research Building/Medical Education & Research Facility and includes generic wet laboratories, as well as support space.

Creative researchers from the Psychiatry and Neurology departments will call the first floor of the PBDB home. Having these two departments share the same floor will further strengthen existing relationships. The PBDB will act as a focal point where these relationships can develop and foster scientific discovery.

James B. Potash, MD, MPH, Chair and Department Executive Officer of Psychiatry, is excited about having several of his department’s top investigators make the move to a new space. The PBDB lab space will advance the Psychiatry Department’s efforts to use neuroscience for new and better mental illness treatments, while gaining a richer understanding of these conditions.

Accomplished researchers, fresh lab space

Neurology and Psychiatry researchers moving to the PBDB find themselves in a pivotal position when it comes to the proud legacy of research at the UI. They’re creating the beginnings of a University of Iowa Neuroscience Institute that will soon be established. Currently, they include the following primary investigators:

  • Michael Lutter, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry
    The Lutter Laboratory studies the relationship between psychiatric disorders and metabolism. They are especially interested in eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry 
    The Pieper Laboratory focuses on discovering new treatments for neurologic and psychiatric disorders using innovative approaches in animal models. The laboratory is investigating new therapeutic approaches in depression, traumatic brain injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer's disease.

That’s not all. Additional researchers are expected to join the ranks of this interdisciplinary neuroscience effort at the PBDB in 2015. A husband and wife team are slated to arrive in January: Gordon Buchanan and Hanna Stevens, both MD-PhD investigators from Yale. Gordon is a neurologist and Hanna is a child psychiatrist.

Discoveries made in good company

Potash says Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neurology researchers, as well as others in Radiology, have plenty in common and that they share a prevailing purpose ─ to use neuroscience in the discovery of new and better treatments for psychiatric and neurologic diseases.

“That kind of research certainly cuts across departmental boundaries,” explains Potash.

There’s one new piece of equipment that should prove to be instrumental for interdisciplinary research between the UI Psychiatry and Radiology departments. The PBDB includes a 7 Tesla MRI Scanner, located in the lower level.

Vincent Magnotta, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiology and Director of the MRI Research Facility (pictured left), will be among those utilizing the scanner for research. Magnotta’s collaboration with the Psychiatry Department is already well established, as he has a secondary appointment in the department. This kind of connection across departments will continue to help grow an interdisciplinary approach to research.

“That’s another example of the kind of synergy we’re hoping will come out of this move,” says Potash. “[Magnotta] works very closely with a number of our brain imaging researchers.”

Discoveries being made by Psychiatry Department labs are advancing the field of Psychiatry and, in turn helping those who live with mental illnesses. Although UI Psychiatry labs seek answers to different questions, they all aim to increase the world’s understanding of mental health. Moving a number of those labs to the PBDB makes today an invigorating time to be a UI Psychiatry researcher.