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 VOL. 23, NO. 19APRIL 3, 1998 

Neuroscience Research Expands, Increasing Columbia’s Leading Role

Dana, Keck Foundations Give Large Grants


Combining its excellence in neuroscience with the generosity of two prominent philanthropies, Columbia is now in a position to extend into new directions its pioneering contribution in molecular cognition.

  The Charles A. Dana Foundation and the W.M. Keck Foundation have announced grants Columbia will use to establish two complementary research programs in cognitive neuroscience.

  The Dana Foundation has made a $1.5 million gift to Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, supporting a postdoctoral training program that will bring new investigators into brain behavior research, primarily in the area of cognitive neuroscience.

  The fellows will work initially on forging links between ongoing genetic molecular-based studies in mice and imaging studies in normal human subjects and in patients with disorders of memory and other aspects of cognition.

  The Dana Foundation is a private, philanthropic foundation that supports health, education and research in the field of neuroscience, seeking better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and disorders that afflict millions of Americans.

  A second effort in mind-brain research at Columbia has been stimulated by the new Keck Center in Behavioral Plasticity, established with a $3.5 million grant from the Foundation.

  The foundation, one of the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, supports science, engineering and biomedical research at colleges and universities.

  The Keck Center is one of only three University-wide centers at Columbia. It will bring five new junior faculty to Columbia—three to the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior on the University’s Health Sciences campus at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and two to the department of psychology on the Morningside Heights campus.

  The Keck Center is designed to bridge the strengths in neurosciences of the Health Sciences campus and cognitive neuroscience of the Morningside campus.

  This new program is founded on the conviction that understanding mental function will require studies that span the whole spectrum of research on molecular, cellular systems and clinical levels. The center will explore a range of topics from studies of mice on how genes contribute to memory and developmental and perceptual plasticity to studies in humans on cognitive plasticity.

  “These gifts from two prominent foundations recognize Columbia’s growing strengths in neuroscience and signify an investment in the enormous potential this field holds for human health. It is money we will invest wisely for dividends that will have significant human value,” said President George Rupp.

  Herbert Pardes, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Faculty of Medicine, said: “Columbia University is now positioned to provide national leadership in neuroscience and behavior in the 21st century.

  “These innovative new programs will bridge the techniques and insights of molecular biology to those of cognitive psychology, enhancing a powerful new approach to cognitive neuroscience we have initiated at Columbia University, known as molecular cognition.”

  The new programs are designed to expand this novel approach to the brain and behavior, which Columbia has pioneered in the past few years, from studies in mice to non-human primates to human clinical studies.

  “The application of this approach is essential for the mechanistic analysis of behavior and is likely to have a wide impact on clinical psychiatry and neurology,” said Eric Kandel, University Professor and Howard Hughes senior investigator, who will direct the Dana Program and Keck Center.

  “To understand the brain, both as the organ of mental function and as a target for disease, we need to understand at the cellular and the molecular level the behavioral and systems function of the brain in both animal models and humans.”

  To assure the development of this broad approach—from gene to cognition—Columbia sought and received the initial financial support to start two bridging areas.

  Faculty participating in the two programs include preeminent leaders in the field. The Health Sciences faculty includes, in addition to Kandel: Richard Axel, Higgins Professor of Biochemistry and Pathology, Howard Hughes investigator and a pioneer in research on the sense of smell; Tom Jessell, professor of biochemistry and Howard Hughes investigator, who studies how brain circuits for behavior develop; Steven Siegelbaum, professor of pharmacology and Howard Hughes investigator, who studies how signaling in the brain is modified by learning; Rene Hen, associate professor of pharmacology, who studies the biology of aggression, and Richard Mayeux, Gertrude Sergievsky Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, who studies the molecular epidemiology of memory disorders in elderly patients.

  The faculty members on the Morningside campus include Lynn Cooper and Janet Metcalfe, professors of psychology, who have pioneered the study of memory in humans, and Darcy Kelley, Martin Chalfie and Eduardo Macagno, professors of biological sciences, who study elementary components of behavior in simple animals.

  The Keck Center will use existing space and an additional 4,000 square feet in the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s building at C-PMC and 3,000 square feet in the biology and psychology departments at Morningside.