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Front Page » Top Stories » New Initiative Probes Brain Disorders

New Initiative Probes Brain Disorders

Written by on October 4, 2012

By Melissa Montoya
Florida International University for the first time is offering graduate students the chance to earn a cognitive neuroscience certificate as part of a wider-range initiative the university is developing on the impact of human brain development and disorders.

Organizers of the cognitive neuroscience initiative that the School of Integrated Science and Humanity is spearheading want the program to have an interdisciplinary approach, said program Executive Director Suzanna Rose.

"What we are doing with the cognitive neuroscience initiative is bringing together scientists from all colleges and schools that have interests in brain function," Dr. Rose said, "We are trying to get these folks to work together to investigate neurological system disorders."

Organizers said they hope that once the initiative is successful and has gained interest, a center can then be established.

Dr. Rose said organizers need $4 million to $5 million to fully fund a cognitive neuroscience center. So far, 35 faculty members are involved.

Cognitive neuroscience is the study of how the brain and central nervous system drive processes like language, memory and emotions, said Anthony Dick, director of the graduate certificate in cognitive neuroscience.

At FIU, researchers plan to focus on three pillars of cognitive neuroscience: neurocognition, neurological disorders and neurorehabilitation.

Neurocognition is about the cognitive processes of the brain and how they affect the development of language, memory and problem-solving skills. The neurological disorders branch will focus research on neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, autism and epilepsy. Neurorehabilitation will deal with restoring functionality in people who have sustained spinal injuries or who have lost limbs.

"There is a growing need to understand what the neurobiological underpinnings are of a lot of mental disorders," said Dr. Dick, who teaches cognitive neuroscience at the graduate level. "The purpose of the initiative is to build a collaborative framework for doing research in the cognitive neuroscience."

For Iris Broce, a second-year Ph.D. student in the developmental science program, the certificate is an opportunity to expand her resume.

"I think that when it comes to applying for a faculty position or a post-doc, it will make me more competitive because it is my emphasis," Ms. Broce said.

FIU has hired Angie Laird, an enthusiastic professor in her first semester with the university, to help establish the program.

"The brain is a network of regions that all interact in really diverse and complicated ways," said Dr. Laird.

Dr. Laird said she hopes that if interest in the program is large, funds can be found to establish a center. For starters, she said, she would like an MRI scanner on campus.

"We really need our own facility to enable our investigators to get scans," Dr. Laird said. "We have started the initial discussions and planning sessions and are identifying fundraising targets and possibilities."

Regardless, Dr. Laird said, she is excited to lend her expertise to the new project.

"There’s a lot of potential for me to have a direct impact on creating something different," she said. "I saw the excitement here to create something new and exciting."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.