Grants will fund new projects in neuroscience

The Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a partnership between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, has received three grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling over $7 million, according to a March 12 university press release.

“The three new grants the CNBC has received will enable our students to have a wide range of cross-training experiences,” said Peter Strick, codirector of the CNBC and a professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. “As a consequence, each student in the center will be able to participate in the synthesis of disciplines which is the essence of modern neuroscience.”

Beginning this summer, in an effort to expose students from other institutions to the CNBC, approximately 10 students from schools other than Carnegie Mellon or the University of Pittsburgh will be able to enroll in a 10-week course that will prepare them for future research projects in computational neuroscience.

The grants will also fund undergraduate research projects in computational neuroscience conducted through the CNBC.

NIDA donated $2 million to the CNBC for the development of a new multimodal neuroimaging training program. The program will be headed by William Eddy, professor of statistics at Carnegie Mellon, and Seong-Gi Kim, professor of radiology and neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh. New advances in in vivo imaging are allowing doctors to better understand the inner workings of the living brain at the molecular, cellular, and system levels. Students at the CNBC will be researching these levels using these newly available advanced imaging techniques.

NIDA donated an additional $2 million to the center to fund training for computational neuroscientists using the Blueprint for Neuroscience. The Blueprint is a curriculum developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the intention of advancing research methods in order to expedite discoveries in the field of neuroscience.

Students enrolled in the 10-week summer program will be working with the Blueprint at the CNBC with Robert Kass, a professor of statistics at Carnegie Mellon, and G. Bard Ermentrout, a professor of mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh. The students will take classes in various aspects of neuroscience research methods, then choose an independent research project to conduct at the CNBC for the remainder of the 10-week period.

The program provides Carnegie Mellon, which does not currently have pre-professional programs, with a pre-doctoral training program. It also establishes a six-week summer program for senior graduate students, medical students, post-doctorate fellows, and scientists interested in neuroimaging. The program aims to bolster cooperative efforts among 15 other NIH institutes working to better understand the nervous system.

“Students with strong backgrounds in biology and psychology are being asked to train in computational methods,” said Strick. “The result is a new generation of multidisciplinary neuroscientists who are comfortable asking complex questions and then using the most appropriate approaches to solve them.”

Lastly, the CNBC received about $3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which it will use to renew its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program.

The program is designed to familiarize graduate students with specialty areas in neuroscience that are outside of their own areas of concentration. The professors who maintain close contact with the IGERT team are David Touretzky, research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, and Carol Colby, professor of neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh.
The grants will allow students to pursue a variety of fields, which is necessary for today’s generation of students, Strick said.

“We are now moving into a new era of multidisciplinary training in which we are asking our students to stretch intellectually. Students with a mathematics, computer science, or engineering background are being asked to learn about and ‘do’ biology,” he said.

The staff of the CNBC hope that the grants will help them achieve a better understanding of cognitive processes such as thinking and learning, memory, language, and perception.

“These grants recognize the excellence of the CNBC in cross-disciplinary brain research, stated Carl Olsen, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon and acting codirector of the CNBC, in a university press release. “Training students to bridge multiple fields, such as behavioral psychology, brain imaging and computer modeling, is the aim of these programs.”