James Kenyon was recently elected by neuroscience faculty to serve as director of the new Institute for Neuroscience, which was inaugurated in 2018 to support and sustain neuroscience programs and initiatives at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The last ten years have seen extraordinary growth in neuroscience research and teaching across many University colleges and departments. New education programs include a Bachelors of Science in Neuroscience with more than 400 majors and a Ph.D. program in Integrative Neuroscience with 26 current graduate students. The development of early-career neuroscience researchers got a strong boost from a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) IDeA program to develop the University's Center for Integrative Neuroscience. The Center, which has so far brought more than $20 million in NIH funding to the University, is designed to catalyze the success of early-career faculty members in the neurosciences by providing research funding, mentoring and research infrastructure including state-of-the-art tools for cognitive and cellular/molecular neuroscience.
Recognizing this growth and potential, the Nevada Board of Regents approved a proposal developed through the COBRE award to establish the Institute for Neuroscience. The institute expands on and complements the Center for Integrative Neuroscience by coordinating the multiple neuroscience education and research programs, supporting strategic planning, facilitating the development of interdisciplinary education and research, and comunicating the good news about the University's work in the neurosciences to the community.
The activities of the Institute for Neuroscience are initially supported by $500,000 in funding provided by Research & Innovation at the University. Working with the institute's Steering Committee, Kenyon has identified programs to be initiated or enhanced with that funding.
The objectives of the institute include:
- Developing NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for the Institute for Neuroscience Training Pipeline to support education and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral fellows, with specific effort toward the recruitment of scholars from underrepresented groups,
- Supporting the development of interdisciplinary research teams and infrastructure such as core laboratories and equipment leading to interdisciplinary research support from the NIH, NSF and other research programs,
- Facilitating communication and strategic planning to continue the development of neuroscience at the University,
- Increasing the visibility of neuroscience programs both on and off campus,
- Increasing neuroscience-related outreach in K-12, community college, museum, clinic and health advocacy settings.
Neuroscience is the the study of the brain and nervous system. By its very nature it is multidisciplinary, encompassing most if not all academic disciplines. For example, the Integrative Neuroscience Graduate Progam currently includes participation from over 60 faculty in 12 departments, ranging from philosophy to pharmacology. The broad scope of the field sets the stage for the Institute for Neuroscience. According to Kenyon, both scientific advances and education in the field will demand collaboration, interdisciplinary approaches and improved communication.
"The institute will help UNR to envision the big strategic picture, encourage networking and elevate the visibility of neuroscience," said Michael Webster, Foundation Professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Integrative Neuroscience.
"We now have tremendous research and training strengths in neuroscience, and through the institute we have an opportunity to further these programs to build on their energy and potential," Webster said. "I've been impressed that Jim is going out of his way to seek input. He's on a fact-finding mission; he's asking faculty and graduate students ‘what would be the value of the institute to you?'"
Accepting the position of the director, Kenyon noted, "The development of UNR neuroscience education and research over the last several years has been amazing and reflects efforts of faculty members in the Colleges of Liberal Arts, Science, Engineering, and the Division of Health Sciences. All of these units are represented on the insititute's Steering Committee to provide a broad and inclusive vision for the growth of neuroscience initiatives. Faculty and students are very excited about the many benefits the institute will bring, and the University administration has been very generous in providing the seed funding to support its activities and growth. I also commend Mike Webster for his vision to create the institute as a permanent and self-sustaining legacy of the COBRE award."
An accomplished researcher and professor in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, Kenyon's most recent prior role was as Senior Associate Dean for Research with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine. He has considerable experience with the development of large research-infrastructure projects, having directed the Nevada INBRE, part of the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, an NIH program designed to help traditionally underfunded states build biomedical infrastructure. He also served as the Program Coordinator of the regional IDeA-CTR program developing clinical and translational research at 13 institutions across seven western states.
"The COBRE program is about creating capacity. It builds upon a demonstrated expertise, providing significant support for the development of faculty and infrastructure," said Mridul Gautam, University vice president for research and innovation. "Now, with the development of the Institute for Neuroscience and the appointment of Jim as its director, this multidisciplinary effort in the neurosciences is prepared to move to the next level and become a sustained and renowned center of excellence."
This story was developed by James Kenyon, director of the Institute for Neuroscience, Michael Webster, director of the Center for Integrative Neuroscience, and Jane Tors, research communications director.