Brains on Brains

The second afternoon with MIT’s Brains on Brains on April 25th provided reasons for optimism and hope for the 78 alumni and friends who attended the mini- symposium. The program celebrated MIT’s neuroscience community and the collaborations that take place among the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. Working together, the faculty and students of these units investigate the brain and mind using a wide spectrum of approaches, employing modern techniques of genomics, molecular and cellular biology, neurophysiology, brain imaging, computation, and cognitive testing. They use these techniques to understand and develop new therapies for a wide variety of brain disorders, including autism, dyslexia, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others. It should come as no surprise that this group can claim 400 patents, 18 startup companies, and two clinical trials.

In welcoming everyone, Dean of Science, Marc Kastner argued that “the field of neuroscience is so attractive because of the ability to do both deep fundamental basic science and research that has important applications.” New faculty member Myriam Heiman discussed the various breakthroughs that have led to new therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Poitras Professor of Neuroscience, Guoping Feng focused on psychiatric disorders research; he explained how his lab expects to provide novel strategies for developing more effective treatment by studying how genetic defects contribute to these disorders. Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, spoke about her research on Alzheimer’s disease which affects 5.3 million people in the United States alone. Professor Tsai watched her own grandmother’s descent into dementia and is determined to find a way to prevent, delay, and hopefully cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Friends and alumni attending the mini-symposium included John Reed, Chairman of the Corporation of MIT, Cynthia Reed, Lis Tarlow, Ron Frashure ’64 (XV), Debbie and Larry Hilibrand ’80 (XVIII), S.M. ’80 (XIV), Prisca Marvin ’85 (X), MIT parents Ernest O’Neal and Nancy Garvey, Bethany Millard, and Susan Whitehead. To watch the video recordings of these lectures, please visit MIT TechTV.