This is my first biennial letter as Executive Director of the Brain Institute. I'm pleased to share with you our successes from 2009, and our challenges for 2010-11.
Calendar year 2009 was a year of change and focused activity for the Brain Institute. On January 1st, I was appointed Executive Director to succeed Thomas Parks, who was named Vice President for Research in 2008. With the guidance of our superb Executive Advisory Committee, I reorganized the Brain Institute staff with the goals of delivering: (1) excellent pre- and post-award administration for grant proposals submitted through the Brain Institute; (2) useful online tools to instigate and support neuroscience collaborations; (3) opportunities for community building among Utah neuroscientists; and (4) administrative support for five faculty recently hired in partnership with the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) program. I'm happy to report that the Brain Institute staff made significant progress on all four fronts in 2009, and in so doing, advanced our founding mission.
This was the first full year at the University of Utah for two of the three Brain Institute USTAR teams - Diagnostic Neuroimaging and Circuits of the Brain. The USTAR team I led - Next-Generation Neural Interfaces - recruited a new faculty member, Alan “Chuck” Dorval in 2009. The successes to date of these research groups are impressive, and highlighted in this annual report. The Brain Institute USTAR teams are already serving as foci of collaboration among faculty in Medicine, Health, Pharmacy, Science, Engineering, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Collaboration drives the Brain Institute, and vice versa. In 2009, the bulk of our resources and staff time was devoted to building and sustaining interdisciplinary collaborations throughout the Utah neuroscience community.
The Brain Institute's dedication to providing tangible services to the Utah neuroscience community will continue to shape our plans in 2010-11. Of note, the Brain Institute will launch a new program - the Brain Institute March Symposia Series - that will feature invited, world-class neuroscientists and clinicians. Of the two symposia we will host each March, one will have a basic neuroscience theme and the other, a clinical and translational neuroscience theme. The 2010 symposia, to be held at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, will highlight Imaging neurons (March 1) and Neurobiology of Addiction (March 19). This Spring, the BI will put out a call for proposals from our membership for 2011 topics. In addition, we'll announce a formal process by which BI members can request assistance in preparing interdisciplinary, multi-investigator grant proposals.
Further along the horizon is the completion of the James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building, which will become the BI's home. In 2011, our staff and several BI USTAR investigators will move into this new building, which is designed to encourage interdisciplinary interactions and translational efforts. BI faculty, students, and staff will work alongside other investigators who specialize in complementary technical areas, such as nanotechnology and electronics. The building will also house world-class core facilities, and will serve as a centrally located meeting ground for the neuroscience community.
As the BI continues to mature, we face a number of ongoing challenges. Most of these challenges arise from the fact that the BI has finite resources to devote to essentially unlimited needs. How can a small staff provide meaningful assistance to over 140 member faculty, while simultaneously serving as the main source of support for a growing number of “internal” BI USTAR investigators? How involved should the BI be in education and public outreach? How can the BI effect institutional changes that reward faculty for collaborating outside their departmental and college silos? I won't pretend that I have the answers to these questions, but I look forward to working with all of your to identify solutions in a manner that reflects our values of transparency, economic efficiency, integrity and interdisciplinary cooperation.
John A. White, Ph.D.