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Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh Receive Training Grants from National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation


Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have received three grants totaling more than $7 million from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Science Foundation to support programs that train undergraduate and graduate students in basic neuroscience, computational neuroscience, multimodal neuroimaging and other interdisciplinary endeavors. The programs will be offered through the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), which is jointly run by the universities.

“The three new grants the CNBC has received will enable our students to participate in the synthesis of disciplines, which is the essence of modern neuroscience,” said Peter Strick, professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the CNBC. “We are moving into a new era of multidisciplinary training in which we are asking our students to stretch intellectually. The result is a new generation of multidisciplinary neuroscientists who are comfortable asking complex questions and then using the most appropriate approaches to solve them.”

“These grants recognize the excellence of the CNBC in cross-disciplinary brain research,” said Carl Olson, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon and acting co-director of the CNBC. “Unraveling how the brain produces perception, memory and other mental states is going to require a generation of researchers trained to work outside the limits of traditional disciplines. Training students to bridge multiple fields, such as behavioral psychology, brain imaging and computer modeling, is the aim of these programs.”

The CNBC is poised to train computational neuroscientists with help from a $2 million grant from the NIDA through the Blueprint for Neuroscience, established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). According to the NIH, the blueprint aims to develop new tools, resources and training opportunities to accelerate the pace of discovery in neuroscience research and to enhance cooperative activities among 15 NIH institutes and centers that support research on the nervous system.

This grant will support programs that provide undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon and Pitt with a strong foundation in quantitative science and basic neuroscience, and will enable the training of doctoral students in computational neuroscience. Beginning in 2007, approximately 10 students from outside these academic institutions will come to Pittsburgh for a 10-week summer program. Students will first take classes in computational methods and basic neuroscience to prepare for research projects in computational neuroscience. The students will then choose a research project to work on in the lab for the remainder of the 10 weeks. In addition to this summer program, the grant will support several undergraduates who conduct computational neuroscience research through the CNBC. The grant will also provide for the creation of new courses and professional development activities for faculty members. Principal investigators on this grant are Carnegie Mellon Statistics Professor Robert Kass and G. Bard Ermentrout, professor of mathematics at Pitt.

Researchers at the CNBC received another $2 million from the NIDA on behalf of the NIH’s Blueprint for Neuroscience to develop a new, multimodal neuroimaging training program (MNTP). Advances in in vivo imaging techniques now allow neuroscientists to visualize how the living brain functions at a molecular, cellular and system level. MNTP students will receive basic neuroscience training to conduct integrative neuron-imaging research. Additionally, they will study the underlying principles, data interpretation and modeling, and applications of several imaging modalities, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography and optical imaging. This new program provides a pre-doctoral training program and a six-week summer workshop for senior graduate students, medical students, post-doctoral fellows and scientists who are interested in neuroimaging. Principal investigators for this program are Seong-Gi Kim, professor of radiology and neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh; and William Eddy, professor of statistics at Carnegie Mellon.

The third training grant, from the National Science Foundation, renews the CNBC’s existing Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program. The IGERT training option offers graduate students more specialized, in-depth training than traditional programs because it allows them to work with mentors outside their home discipline. In this way, students develop a core competence in another field that complements their main research activities. For example, a neuroscience student may receive training in computer modeling techniques to develop a simulation of the activity of brain cells. Or a statistics student who develops tools for analyzing fMRI data may learn how to design and conduct imaging experiments. Principal investigators on the IGERT award are Carol Colby, professor of neuroscience at Pitt; and David Touretzky, research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon.

The CNBC is dedicated to understanding the neural mechanisms that give rise to cognitive processes, including learning and memory, language and thought, perception and attention, and planning and action. CNBC faculty members include researchers with appointments in the departments of biological sciences, computer science, psychology, robotics and statistics at Carnegie Mellon; and bioengineering, mathematics, neurobiology, neurology, neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology at Pitt.


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