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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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Regents approve creation of virtual institute to advance neuroscience and neurotechnology research

AUSTIN – The University of Texas System Regents today approved the creation of a virtual institute to help UT neuroscientists compete for federal and private grants and dramatically advance research of the human brain.

Regents voted unanimously to appropriate $20 million over two years to establish the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute. In the first year, $5 million will be used to recruit faculty and pay for laboratory equipment through the STARs (Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention) program, and $5 million will provide seed funding to foster collaboration among researchers and scientists across the UT System.

“This is not a traditional brick and mortar building,” said Patricia Hurn, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and innovation at the UT System. “We want to focus on the creation of innovative tools and techniques to understand one of the most fundamental assets in existence – the human brain. We want to drive blue sky technologies and transform neuroscience research.”

In 2013, the Obama administration announced the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to revolutionize understanding of the human brain and help treat, cure and prevent brain disorders. The effort could receive as much as $4.5 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

The goal is for the UT Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute to give UT scientists an edge in the intense competition for the federal research grants, as well as private ones. A few other states have started or are in the process of starting their own programs, but UT System’s institute is by far the most organized and strategic.

“We have an impressive and extensive variety of neuroscientists in our academic and health institutions, and this funding will position the UT System as a national leader in pushing innovation in neuroscience research,” said Regent Brenda Pejovich, who has championed the effort to create the institute.

Roger Rosenberg, M.D., founding director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at UT Southwestern and a leading Alzheimer’s researcher, is just one example of the world-class faculty members the UT System boasts, Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. said.

“Now we can give our physicians and scientists the tools to make breakthroughs in what is one of the last frontiers of medicine,” Cigarroa said. “We also will be able to recruit the very best faculty in the world to help us understand the brain and work to eliminate dementia, Alzheimer’s, autism and other neurodegenerative diseases. Their research and work also will have the potential to improve treatments and speed recovery for wounded soldiers and people who have suffered debilitating strokes or spinal cord and brain trauma.”

Through a partnership with UT Austin, the UT Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute will award seed funding – after a peer-review process – to collaborative research projects among multiple institutions that are likely to receive federal or private funding. All 15 UT institutions are eligible for funding, and areas of special interest will include imaging, neurocomputational techniques, development of neuro-devices for research or treatment purposes and molecular mapping.

"The virtual neuroscience institute is a visionary way to coordinate and focus the tremendous talent we have across all of our University of Texas institutions in the fields of neuroscience and neurotechnology,” said Arshad Khan, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences and director of the Systems Neuroscience Laboratory at UT El Paso. “Having this kind of system-level support will provide UT researchers and clinicians the critical seed funds necessary for them to develop innovative and competitive proposals to fund research projects under the BRAIN Initiative.”

About the University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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