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New OHSU Brain Institute To Encourage Collaboration

Effort seeks improved disease therapies by bringing together large faculty working in basic, clinical neurosciences

Oregon Health & Science University officials hope a new institute will improve treatment of brain diseases by fostering interdisciplinary research in basic and clinical neurosciences, and communicating the university's advancements in these areas to the public.

The OHSU Brain Institute (OBI) also will integrate the university's many research and clinical care programs in the neurosciences, enhance training of medical students and educate the community about the many facets of research and clinical care for diseases of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

OBI is a joint effort of the OHSU School of Medicine's departments of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care, Behavioral Neuroscience, Neurological Surgery, Neurology and Psychiatry, as well as the Vollum Institute, the Neurological Sciences Institute, the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, the Oregon National Primate Research Center, and the OGI School of Science & Engineering.

"The joining together of these 10 OHSU institutes and departments will create a stronger neuroscience community for OHSU and for Oregon," said OHSU President Peter Kohler, who is announcing OBI's formation during the first event of Brain Awareness Season lecture series this afternoon. "Many of these programs have national and international recognition in their own right. By coming together, they will help make OHSU one of the top neuroscience institutions in the country."

About 40 percent of research funding to OHSU is related in some way to neuroscience research. In 2004, OHSU ranked first in the number of neuroscience projects funded by the National Institute of Health, and No. 2 in the country, behind the University of California, San Diego, in the amount of NIH money funded for the neurosciences. A third of OHSU's faculty works in the neurosciences.

The purpose of OBI is to "create an interdisciplinary, interactive and truly integrated neuroscience community at OHSU, and to allow us to tell the OHSU neuroscience story better to the public," said Dennis Bourdette, M.D., professor and chairman of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine, and co-chairman of the new institute's leadership council.

OBI co-chairman Gary L. Westbrook, M.D., senior scientist and co-director at the Vollum Institute at OHSU, and professor of neurology, OHSU School of Medicine, called the institute a "communication tool" with which basic and clinical neuroscientists can share resources.

 "OHSU has a very strong clinical program in the neurosciences and very strong basic science programs, among the best in the nation," Westbrook said. The long-term goal, he said, is to enable OHSU to rapidly take basic neuroscience discoveries and transform them into new treatments.

One immediate way of sharing basic and clinical observations would be to post abstracts of weekly and monthly peer-reviewed journal articles written by neuroscience faculty members on OHSU's Web site, Westbrook said. Basic scientists looking to apply their research to a specific neurological disease, such as multiple sclerosis, could search the site for clinicians to collaborate with, and vice versa. Such a site also could be helpful in recruiting faculty with specific areas of expertise to OHSU.

 "OBI will serve as a catalyst to help clinical groups and basic science groups identify a problem and solve it," he said. "Its brainstorming function will be very helpful."

Brain Awareness Season, OHSU's highly successful annual series of lectures, teacher workshops and children's activities now taking place, will become a program of OBI upon the institute's creation. Bourdette said "Brain Awareness is a natural tool for advocating OBI and the neurosciences in general to the public."

 "Brain Awareness Season already is a draw for the public, not just in how it highlights OHSU's advancements in neurological disease research, education and patient care, but also in the way it conveys the importance of supporting the neurosciences everywhere," Bourdette said. "Brain Awareness Season will serve as OBI's primary outreach arm."

Patient-oriented centers within some of the departments that are part of OBI also will serve as conduits for getting the word out about OHSU's neuroscience programs. For example, the Layton Aging & Alzheimer's Disease Center, the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Oregon, the Oregon Stroke Center and the Parkinson Center of Oregon, all within the Department of Neurology, already have devoted followings among patients seeking the latest therapies.

 "People with neurological disorders demand the interdisciplinary collaboration that OBI will encourage," Bourdette said. "They are educated enough about their diseases to know that therapies and cures only happen when basic and clinical scientists work together."

Bourdette and Westbrook also hope to develop a biennial OHSU Brain Institute Neurosciences Research Conference. They also plan to develop a calendar of research seminars open to all neuroscience faculty members, as well as make streaming videos or "webcasts" of the events available on OHSU's Web site.

An integrated neurology/neurological surgery clinic at OHSU's soon-to-be-completed Center for Health & Healing at Portland's South Waterfront and an inpatient hospital ward at the OHSU Hospital Expansion on Marquam Hill also are in the works, as is a "neurobiology of disease" course for graduate students in the neurosciences and an annual newsletter.

OBI will "serve as a clearinghouse for grassroots interconnectedness" between neuroscientists inside and outside OHSU, Westbrook said. "This is an additional mechanism for facilitating communication and collaboration."

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