The NeuroDiscovery Center is the modern equivalent of a Bell Labs for Neuroscience. A key element in the NeuroDiscovery Center is sustained support for particularly innovative basic research that creates new opportunities for fundamental discoveries. Creating the opportunity for discovery requires a special environment in which the best and the brightest are given the resources to take risks and attempt experiments that are truly innovative. Our Center is modeled directly on Bell Labs, which provided a special research environment in which a diverse group of scientists were brought together at a single site and given the resources to “think outside the box” and make discoveries. The end result was remarkable for both the small size of the staff and the investment. Scientists at Bell Labs created radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, information theory, and several new computer languages. In the process they won seven Nobel Prizes.
Sustained support for basic research is critical, and yet it is increasingly difficult to justify and obtain because its relevance to preventing or curing a disease may not be immediately obvious. Furthermore, the time from basic science discoveries to their translation into new clinical treatments can be lengthy. Thus, this Center will require special fund-raising efforts that differ from the usual “grateful patient” model.
In the future, we hope to locate the Center in a single building where even the architecture of the building promotes an atmosphere of interaction, collaboration, synergy, and excitement. The best discussions often occur by chance at lunchtime, around the water cooler, or at the coffee kiosk. A site in Oakland would maximize the value of the NeuroDiscovery Center to Pitt, and at the same time enable the Center to be fully embedded in the institution and draw on all of its elements.