The University of Virginia will invest more than $75 million in an interdisciplinary effort to pioneer life-changing advances in neuroscience while simultaneously mapping the workings of the human brain.
One of UVA’s ambitious Grand Challenge Research Initiatives, the neuroscience push will help scientists better understand perplexing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and autism, as well as how the brain functions over a lifespan.
The Grand Challenge in neuroscience’s initial studies will:
- Investigate why caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients are more likely to develop dementia than their peers who don’t serve as caregivers.
- Test the capacity for focused ultrasound to help deliver immunological therapies across the brain’s protective barrier.
- Catalog neurodiversity among the many forms of autism to develop enhanced interventions and educational approaches for students from early childhood onward.
- Deploy multiple technologies to better understand the brain’s overall circuitry and development.
The University will make more than 20 strategic faculty hires to help with the research, and initiate the Next Generation Scholars program, which will recruit and train 15 outstanding post-doctoral researchers, with an emphasis on diversifying the field.
“A further advantage of making these investments is that it will put us in position to develop a world-leading comprehensive neuroscience institute, along the lines of a comprehensive cancer center,” University Provost Ian Baucom said.
Jaideep Kapur, a professor of neurology and director of the UVA Brain Institute, and Sarah Kucenas, a professor of biology and director of the Program in Fundamental Neuroscience, said the research slate was chosen through a year-long process that included online meetings, opportunities for collective idea generation, and a University-wide conference that involved more than 100 faculty, staff and students.
The University Grand Challenges Fund is providing $50 million of the total investment, with the Health System and the partnering schools collectively contributing another $25 million.
About $10 million will go toward equipment and research cores, including a clinical trials unit.
“We want to take what we learn all the way to the clinic, where our patients can share in advances,” Kapur said.
Administrators hope the emerging nexus focused on neuroscience will draw outside funding that will continue to increase researchers’ capacity to make transformative discoveries, and to use those discoveries to improve health and wellbeing.
The leaders also noted that the neuroscience challenge will be an opportunity to showcase UVA for its breadth of expertise at all stages of life.
“Here at UVA, we have strengths in brain-related research areas across the lifespan,” Kucenas said. “We’ll be using this funding to create links between these areas of excellence. It will allow UVA to be unique in addressing the brain from birth to late age.”