Johns Hopkins, Kavli Foundation create new institute dedicated to study of how the brain works

Neuroscience Discovery Institute, expected to launch in early 2016, will bring together experts in neuroscience, engineering, data science

The Kavli Foundation and its university partners announced this morning the founding of three new neuroscience institutes, including one at Johns Hopkins. The new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at The Johns Hopkins University, expected to launch in early 2016, will bring an interdisciplinary group of researchers together to investigate the workings of the brain.

Image caption: Rick Huganir (left) and Michael Miller will co-direct the new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute

The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, to be funded by a joint $20 million commitment by Kavli and Johns Hopkins, is designed to integrate neuroscience, engineering, and data science—three fields in which the university has long excelled—to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.

Experimental tools in neuroscience are yielding larger and more complex data sets than ever before, but the ability of neuroscientists to manage and mine these data sets effectively has lagged behind, as has their ability to model the behavior of cells and circuits in the brain. The new institute aims to change that by drawing on the university's expertise in "big data" analytics.

"The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will the solutions we create," says Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. "The Kavli Foundation award is a tremendous honor because it allows Johns Hopkins to build on our history of pioneering neuroscience and to catalyze new partnerships with engineers and data scientists that will be essential to building a unified understanding of brain function."

Added Robert W. Conn, president and CEO of The Kavli Foundation: "This new institute will bring together some of the world's finest researchers in neuroscience in a fresh, dynamic way that is aimed at advancing our understanding of the relationship between the brain and behavior. This kind of research is essential to finding new approaches to better understand the mind and protecting it from disorders ranging from depression to Alzheimer's."

Also see: Johns Hopkins part of $100 million initiative to study the brain (The Baltimore Sun)

The 45 initial members of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute—including Director Richard L. Huganir, professor and director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and co-director Michael I. Miller, professor of biomedical engineering—are drawn from 14 different departments in the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine, engineering, arts and sciences, and public health, and the Applied Physics Laboratory.

"Neuroscience is inherently interdisciplinary," Huganir says. "You can study the biochemistry of the brain, but how does that relate to circuits and behavior? It's tough to answer that in a single laboratory. It necessitates interaction and collaboration, and with the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, we're trying to take that to a new level to understand the brain."

Added Miller: "Our ability to collect cellular neural data is growing at a Moore's law kind of doubling rate. At the same time, our ability to image the brain at different scales is producing massive data sets. One of the fundamental problems we all face now is how to connect the information that is being represented across scales. With this deluge of data, mathematical, algorithmic, and computational models become perhaps more important today in neuroscience than ever before."

The three new institutes announced today are the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at The Johns Hopkins University, the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University, and the Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. Each of the institutes will receive a $20 million endowment supported equally by their universities and the foundation, along with startup funding. The foundation is also partnering with four other universities to build their Kavli Institute endowments further. These Institutes are at Columbia University; the University of California, San Diego; Yale University; and Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, advances science for the benefit of humanity, promotes public understanding of scientific research, and supports scientists and their work. The foundation's mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics, and through the support of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships and other activities. The foundation is also a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

"I'm so pleased that the Kavli Foundation and its university partners, including Maryland's iconic Johns Hopkins University, are coming together to advance cutting edge research into traumatic brain injuries and debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's, autism, and Parkinson's," says Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. "This public/private partnership will help support the development and application of innovative technologies that can help map the human brain. With today's announcement, we will help researchers uncover the mysteries of brain disorders so we can better treat, prevent, cure, and help families in need."

Correction: The roles Huganir and Miller will fill with the new institute were misstated in an earlier version of this article. Huganir is the director; Miller is the co-director. We regret the error.

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