What We Do

The Brain Institute's mission is to unlock the mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function and then translate discoveries into new approaches for overcoming brain disorders. The formula is simple: Basic science research enables discoveries that lead to treatments and cures.  It's all about the science.

The Brain Institute provides a unifying structure and collaborative framework for the many diverse research units that make up the neuroscience community at Pitt. The workings of the nervous system and its disorders cannot be understood using a single level of analysis, experimental technique or scientific discipline. Instead, brain research requires multiple levels of analysis from molecular and cellular approaches to whole systems and behavioral analysis. Insights come from multiple scientific disciplines ranging from basic neuroscience to bioengineering, computer science and robotics. Furthermore, major advances in the treatment of neurological disorders are often the result of significant collaborations between basic scientists and clinicians. Pitt has all the elements in place to meet the challenges of performing high-impact brain research.

With more than 150 neuroscientists, spread across every school of the University, the Brain Institute is designed to:

  • Cross institutional boundaries;
  • Provide strategic planning within the neuroscience community;
  • Promote interaction between basic and clinical scientists to facilitate the translation of new results into novel treatments;
  • Assist in the recruitment of transformational faculty;
  • Create and oversee essential core resources;
  • Promote the development of new technologies and directions for research;
  • Develop a site for innovation and intellectual excitement comparable to the Bell Labs; and
  • Create new public and private partnerships to underwrite the costs of research and development.

An aspirational goal is to create a new building for the Institute that provides the means for all of its elements to interact. There is no substitute for the interaction and collaborations that result from co-locating scientists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds in one space. Nor can one overemphasize the value in placing clinicians and basic scientists in a common space as a means for facilitating the translation of new observations into clinical treatments. While we work toward the goal of building a central site for the Brain Institute, we have adopted the initial strategy of focusing on the development of intellectual and technical core resources for the benefit of our large neuroscience community.

It is important to note that the Brain Institute will not interfere with existing departments, centers, and institutes, which already operate at a high level. For instance, the Department of Neuroscience in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences does an outstanding job educating undergraduates, and the Department of Neurobiology in the School of Medicine excels in educating medical students. The Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP) has consolidated graduate training in the biological aspects of neuroscience across the two schools, as well as the institution as a whole. In addition, the CNUP runs an active, well-organized outreach program. There is no reason for the Institute to do anything more than support these successful activities.

Instead, the Institute performs four essential functions:

1.  The Brain Institute will help to identify technical research resources that are essential to the entire Pitt neuroscience community. Then, the Institute will lead efforts with affiliated units to develop the financial resources to fill these critical needs. Where appropriate, the Institute will be responsible for the administrative oversight and management of critical research resources. These technical resources could be:

Multi-Modal Neuro-Imaging Cores: PET, MRI, MEG, NIRS, confocal, two-photon (human, non-human primate and rodent)
Developmental Neuroscience Core
Gene Vector and Virus Cores
: Center for Neuroanatomy with Neurotropic Viruses, Gene Targeting, and Gene Transfer Core
Histology & Electron Microscopy Core
Neuroengineering Cores: Biomechanics, Bioelectronics, and Biophysics Support
Human and Non-Human Primate Brain Banks
Western Pennsylvania Patient Registry
Computational / Biostatistics Core

Advanced cores often require highly trained staff scientists for assistance and oversight. The scientists in these positions have a dual responsibility. First, their research must push the technological envelope and enhance the capabilities of the core. Second, their administrative responsibility is to ensure that the core serves the needs of the user community.

2.   The Brain Institute will help to identify and recruit new faculty who are essential intellectual resources for furthering the scientific goals of the community. For example:

  • Research on Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders might be enhanced by a clinical/translational scientist whose research involves recording brain activity during stereotactic procedures.
  • The epilepsy program might be enriched by a basic scientist who studies molecular and cellular mechanisms of seizures using tissue from patients ablated during surgery for epilepsy.
  • The Pediatric Neurology Division and/or the Department of Psychiatry might seek a basic scientist with research interests in the molecular biology of neurodevelopmental disorders.

3.  The Brain Institute will help to develop a campus-wide strategy for future new directions in neuroscience research. Possible new directions include initiatives in Adolescent Neuroscience, Social Neuroscience, and Health Neuroscience.

4.  The Brain Institute will coordinate and unify fundraising efforts. The Institute should be the central clearinghouse for efforts that are critical to the entire neuroscience community. The coordination and unification of these efforts is especially important for Institutional Center grants, Core grants, and Large Instrumentation grants.