Columbia has received an $11-million New York State grant to conduct brain-imaging studies that will expand medical science and create jobs.
The award is part of a total of $27.4 million in grants awarded by the Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR). The grants are a "major milestone in our efforts to secure New York's role as an international leader in high-tech and biotechnology research and economic growth," Gov. George E. Pataki said.
Columbia President George Rupp said, "The Governor has played a crucial role in catalyzing programs that enlist university research in the cause of technology transfer and economic development. All of us who care about New York's competitiveness are deeply grateful for his leadership."
"This is important because it will fund studies of imaging the human brain in a way that's non-invasive and does not disturb the function of the brain," said Gerald D. Fischbach, Columbia's vice president for health and biomedical sciences, dean of the faculty of health sciences, and dean of the faculty of medicine.
"This will enable researchers to study very complex brain functions that previously were inaccessible but are essential for remembering distant events or controlling emotions," Fischbach said.
The high-resolution imaging will be conducted in a new center, the High Resolution Imaging of Functional Neural Circuits in Behavior and Pathology Center. The center will be staffed by Columbia's world-class neuroscience team, including Nobel laureate Eric Kandel.
New imaging technologies that have come into use the past decade are revolutionizing neuroscience by allowing research of the healthy human brain. Using the grant, Columbia will exploit and improve those technologies, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and 2-photon laser microscopy.
Previous research techniques were more invasive. This limited scientists to studying animal brains or to learn what they could from the experiences of people undergoing surgery for brain disorders. This was a fundamental research barrier; researchers cannot develop the best treatments for a diseased organ without fully understanding its normal function.
The new technologies also will allow "more objective measures of brain function, so that one can judge the progress of disease," Fischbach said.
For example, he cited the critical need for very early diagnosis. "By the time patients with Parkinson's disease come to a physician, usually more than 75 percent of the nerve cells in the affected part of the brain are already degenerated. There's a real need for better imaging technologies to find when the first cells are degenerating.
"This is a proud day for New York and Columbia," Fischbach said. "This grant will promote science, stimulate business, create jobs, and help improve neighborhood life."
It is anticipated that the grant will generate approximately 200 jobs, for scientists, technicians, laboratory workers and support staff at Columbia. It is also expected to create jobs in New York's pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical instrumentation industries by fostering partnerships between them and Columbia.
Other grants in the group of NYSTAR awards went to City University of New York, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Manhattan College. In awarding the grants, the state is designating research centers at Columbia and CUNY as Strategically Targeted Research Centers, or STAR Centers.
-- Office of External Affairs, Health Sciences Divisions