Brain illness research gets boost
Rutgers University is collaborating with Big Pharma to study some of the most perplexing brain pathologies of our time: autism, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and some types of age-related hearing loss.
The Brain Health Institute is designed to bring university and pharmaceutical research together in a new way, said Robin Davis, a Rutgers neuroscientist and assistant dean who co-founded the institute.
The basic research into disease conducted by universities often is on a separate track from the applied research done by pharmaceutical companies in bringing a drug to market. The institute aims to marry the tracks and bolster chances for securing federal research funds.
"University scientists establish the fundamental knowledge, and pharmaceuticals do development and testing," Davis said. "We want to combine the strength of the two areas working together and expand the view of everybody."
Researchers from Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey will be involved. An advisory board includes representatives from big names in the pharmaceutical industry, such as Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Rutgers officials said the initiative was important for a state that is home to some of the largest pharmaceutical companies, many of which have throttled back on research and development in recent years. The collaboration will allow for more high-risk, high-impact research, university officials said.
"We live in New Jersey. If we can power the biomedical industry in New Jersey, there is much to be gained from that," said Karl Herrup, a co-founder of the institute and chairman of the department of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers.
The idea is for everyone to work together on "pre-competitive" research, Davis said. The institute has received seed money from the David R. Clare and Margaret C. Clare Foundation to hire an administrator. A series of high-profile seminars and scientific conferences is being planned.
The institute will study brain illness across the life span. Autism, Alzheimer's and some types of age-related hearing loss related to brain function will be the initial focus, which will then expand to include schizophrenia, Davis said.
Rutgers' president, Richard L. McCormick, has identified the institute as one of the university's key fund-raising priorities. Eventually, Rutgers plans to raise money for a building to house the institute and its research. The collaboration dovetails with the federal National Institutes of Health's emphasis on "bench-to-bedside" solutions, which fuse basic research with clinical applications, the university said.
Nov 30, 2010