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FIELD NOTES

NIH ESTABLISHES THREE NEW MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY COOPERATIVE RESEARCH CENTERS

The NIH is funding three new Senator Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Centers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC, and the University of Iowa.

These centers join three others funded by the NIH and the Muscular Dystrophy Association at the University of Washington, University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Rochester. The centers are all a product of the Muscular Dystrophy Community Assistance, Research and Education (MD-CARE) Act passed by Congress in 2001, which calls for the NIH to intensify its commitment to research on the disease.

Investigators at the University of Pennsylvania center will focus on ways to increase muscle growth and will examine compounds that could inhibit enzymes involved in breaking down muscle tissue. Research will be led by H. Lee Sweeney, PhD, Professor and Chairman of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kathryn R. Wagner, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University.

At the Children's National Medical Center, Eric P. Hoffman, PhD, the Center's A. James Clark Chair in Pediatrics, and Diana M. Escolar, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at George Washington University, will spearhead research on the biochemical pathways that contribute to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. One project, for example, will evaluate muscle cell damage and muscle growth and remodeling in mice.

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Dr. Eric P. Hoffman

Two researchers at the University of Iowa, Kevin P. Campbell, PhD, the Roy J. Carver Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Neurology, and Steven A. Moore, MD, PhD, Professor of Neuropathology, will explore therapeutic strategies for different forms of the disease. One project will focus on a potential embryonic stem cell treatment in mice.

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Dr. Kevin P. Campbell

NIH AND ADVOCACY GROUPS JOIN TO FUND GENETIC AUTISM RESEARCH

Five institutes at the NIH and three private autism organizations have awarded five grants totaling $10.8 million to three teams of investigators for work aimed at identifying genes that may cause autism and autism spectrum disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health will distribute the money over the next five years.

One team – including investigators at Rutgers University, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the University of Iowa – will focus on developing novel statistical methods, fine mapping of candidate regions across the genome, and animal models to identify autism susceptibility genes. Linda Brzustowicz, MD, Professor of Genetics at Rutgers, James Millonig, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at UMDNJ, and Veronica Vieland, PhD, Professor of Genetics at the University of Iowa, will direct the research.

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Dr. Linda Brzustowicz

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, investigators led by Jonathan Sebat, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics, will examine gene sequence data in order to identify genes and other genomic elements that have either been deleted or repeated, with the hope of expanding knowledge about the range of autism spectrum disorders.

At Emory University, investigators led by Michael Zwick, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics, will explore patterns of inheritance on the X chromosome, including autism, which has a higher prevalence in boys than girls.

Participating are the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the NINDS. The voluntary organizations contributing funds are Cure Autism Now, National Alliance for Autism Research, and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

MICHAEL GAZZANIGA TO HEAD NEW MIND CENTER

Michael Gazzaniga, PhD, a leader in cognitive neuroscience, will direct a new center for the study of the mind at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The center will bring together scholars from a broad range of disciplines in the arts and humanities, social sciences, the sciences, and engineering to explore the multidimensional nature of the mind.

SAGE, an educational, scholarly, and professional publishing company, has donated $3.4 million to the university to launch the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, which opened its doors on November 10.

The center's goal is to expand the study of the mind beyond the traditional mind-science disciplines of biology, chemistry, psychology, medicine, and neuroscience – focusing on such areas as social interaction, stress, conflict resolution, decision-making, consumer economics, and criminality.

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Dr. Michael Gazzaniga

Dr. Gazzaniga is currently the David T. McLaughlin Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth University where he also directs its Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Dr. Gazzaniga, who has written several books, including The Ethical Brain and Mind Matters, is also a member of the President's Council on Bioethics.

JOHNS HOPKINS CELEBRATES FOUNDING OF ITS BRAIN SCIENCE RESEARCH

Johns Hopkins University celebrated the 35th anniversary of its neurology department and the 25th anniversary of its neuroscience department in November. Solomon Snyder, MD, who in 1980 began his job as the first and only Director of the Department of Neuroscience, chronicled the university's contributions to brain research in the Oct. 20 issue of Neuron (2005;48(2);201–211).

“There were enclaves of scientists and physicians studying the brain in various departments at Hopkins well before 1980,” wrote Dr. Snyder, who joined the university in 1965 as a clinical resident in psychiatry. “But creating the department allowed people studying the brain in one way – by studying what brain cells do, for instance – to work in close proximity and share their knowledge with those using different techniques and approaches. Together with the three brain-centered clinical departments, Hopkins provides an exceptionally robust environment in which to study the brain.”

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Dr. Solomon Snyder

Dr. Snyder, Distinguished Service Professor of Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Psychiatry, was honored at a gala held by the university in November. Dr. Snyder is renowned for his research on the molecular basis of psychiatric disorders, especially for the identification and characterization of novel neurotransmitters or neuromodulators. For example, his lab at Johns Hopkins was the first to show the role of the gas, nitric oxide, in brain activity (Science 1992:257(24);494–496).

The Department of Neurology was founded in 1969 under the direction of Guy McKhann, MD. John W. Griffin, MD, is the current Director, Professor of Neuroscience and Pathology, and Neurologist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Griffin's research focuses on the neurobiology and neuropathology of the peripheral nervous system and on immune-mediated nerve diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. He was an organizer of the North American trial of plasmapheresis for treatment of the syndrome, the first demonstration of an effective therapy in this disease.