The Kavli Foundation and Johns Hopkins Announce Creation of Neuroscience Discovery Institute

October 1, 2015

The Kavli Foundation and its university partners will announce on Oct. 1 the founding of three new neuroscience research institutes, including one at Johns Hopkins. The new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute will bring an interdisciplinary group of researchers together to investigate the workings of the brain.

“The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will the solutions we create,” says Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. “The Kavli Foundation award is a tremendous honor because it allows Johns Hopkins to build on our history of pioneering neuroscience and to catalyze new partnerships with engineers and data science that will be essential to building a unified understanding of brain function.”

The new institute, to be funded by a joint $20 million commitment by Kavli and Johns Hopkins, will become part of an international network of seven Kavli Institutes carrying out fundamental research in neuroscience and a broader network of 20 Kavli Institutes dedicated to astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics. The new funding is part of the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a public and private collaboration launched by President Barack Obama in April 2013.

The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute is designed to integrate neuroscience, engineering and data science — three fields in which the university has long excelled — to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior. The new institute is expected to launch in early 2016.

In the past 25 years, rapid progress in neuroscience has yielded a wealth of new data about brain structure and function at different scales, from the level of single cells to the whole brain. But neuroscientists need to find ways to connect their knowledge of the brain across these scales. The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute will bring together biologists, engineers and data scientists to acquire large data sets that span spatial and temporal scales, create new technologies for measuring and manipulating neural activity, and develop theoretical models of brain function.

“Neuroscience is inherently interdisciplinary. You can study the biochemistry of the brain, but how does that relate to circuits and behavior? It’s tough to answer that in a single laboratory. It necessitates interaction and collaboration, and with the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, we’re trying to take that to a new level to understand the brain,” says the institute’s inaugural director, Richard L. Huganir, Ph.D., professor and director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The 45 initial members of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, including Huganir and co-director Michael I. Miller, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering, are drawn from 14 different departments in the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine, engineering, arts and sciences, and public health, and the Applied Physics Laboratory.

The university is home to one of the first neuroscience departments in the country, which Huganir has overseen since 2006. U.S. News & World Report ranks its graduate program among the top four in the country. Biomedical engineering as a discipline also began at the university, and its program is ranked first in the country by U.S. News.

New experimental tools in neuroscience are yielding larger and more complex data sets than ever before. But the ability of neuroscientists to manage and mine these data sets to maximal effect has lagged behind, as has their ability to model the behavior of cells and circuits in the brain. The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute aims to change that by drawing on the university’s expertise in “big data” analytics, stemming in part from its involvement in the university’s Sloan Digital Sky Survey astronomy project. The new institute’s emphasis on data science — both the creation of data analysis and management tools and the emphasis on rigorous modeling, simulation and theory — sets it apart, says Miller.

“Our ability to collect cellular neural data is growing at a Moore’s law kind of doubling rate. At the same time, our ability to image the brain at different scales is producing massive data sets. One of the fundamental problems we all face now is how to connect the information that is being represented across scales. With this deluge of data, mathematical, algorithmic and computational models become perhaps more important today in neuroscience than ever before,” Miller says.

About The Kavli Foundation

The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, advances science for the benefit of humanity, promotes public understanding of scientific research, and supports scientists and their work. The foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics, and through the support of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships and other activities. The foundation is also a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

The three new institutes are the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at The Johns Hopkins University, the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University and the Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. Each of the institutes will receive a $20 million endowment supported equally by their universities and the foundation, along with startup funding. The foundation is also partnering with four other universities to build their Kavli Institute endowments further. These Institutes are at Columbia University; the University of California, San Diego; Yale University; and Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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