Message from the Chairman
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to building world-class neuroscience education and research programs. The Section of Neurobiology is comprised of 29 multi-disciplinary faculty members who, along with approximately 30 additional inter- departmental and inter-college faculty members in the Institute for Neuroscience, represent the core of neuroscience research at UT Austin. I am honored to take over the chairmanship of the Section from Dr. Rick Aldrich and report to the college community on the state of neuroscience at UT.
Neuroscience is inherently a scientific discipline of self-discovery, and of all the
scientific disciplines it is by far the most
relevant to our daily lives. The human
brain is an amazingly complex structure
that controls all aspects of our behavior. Maintaining a healthy and active brain is vital to the essence of who we are and how we experience life. There are over 100 billion nerve cells in the human brain, each with thousands of connections to other cells. Given this complexity, it is not surprising that the brain can malfunction in many ways. More than 1,000 brain disorders have been identified, with the most prevalent placing a tremendous burden on society in terms of economic impact and human suffering.
One of every 8 Americans over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s Disease, which is the 5th leading cause of death in the US for the population over 65. An estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, the leading cause of disability among children and adults in America. Drug abuse and addiction cost American society an estimated 180 billion per year, including health care, loss of productivity and crime. In addition, approximately 1 in 12 adult Americans abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. Approximately 1 in 17 adults in America (6%) suffer from a seriously debilitating mental illness in their lifetime. A recent European study estimates the total cost related to treating disorders of the brain is more than the sum of the costs for treating cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes – combined!
Given these costs to society, neuroscience research is in the most concrete sense a science for and about public health. By delving into mechanisms of brain function, neuroscientists pave the way for a deeper understanding of brain disease and cognitive disorders and create the foundation for the development of new diagnostics, therapies and cures.
UT Austin has invested heavily in promoting and sustaining multi-disciplinary neuroscience research programs that make major contributions to the understanding of the brain. Over the past seven years we have experienced tremendous growth and built upon the existing base of neuroscience research to develop nationally prominent programs in the neurobiology of learning and memory, addiction, brain trauma, mental health, and epilepsy. These programs bring significant prestige and funding to the university. Neuroscience-related faculty members now bring in an average of $20,000,000 of grant money per year to UT. Furthermore, the average research productivity of neuroscience faculty, in terms of dollars returned to the university per research dollar spent, exceeds the average for the rest of the university faculty.
The strength of our research programs is supported by the investment UT has made in cutting edge research facilities. The Norman Hackerman Building (NHB) was recently completed on campus and includes three floors of state-of-the-art lab space dedicated to neuroscience research. Much of this space is the new home for the 13 faculty members who comprise the Center for Learning and Memory, whose research programs focus on understanding the neurobiology underlying learning and memory, and related diseases of cognition and aging. The Imaging Research Center, which houses fMRI equipment used to investigate human brain function, cognition and pathology, will be moving to new space in NHB by spring 2012, centralizing this resource and creating the prospect for collaborative neuroscience research on campus.
Finally, the recent growth of neuroscience at UT has created the opportunity to implement an undergraduate neuroscience major, which will be a new academic path available in fall of 2012. This represents a tremendous step forward for neuroscience education at UT and, combined with the neuroscience doctorate program, will allow us to compete for the best and brightest undergraduate and graduate students in Texas and in the nation. Offering an undergraduate neuroscience degree further strengthens our thriving neuroscience community and solidifies UT as a major national and international center for neuroscience research and education. We look forward to continued growth in neuroscience at UT and welcome the involvement of interested members of the community. -Daniel Johnston