Neuroscience Research and Education Expand and Advance
Founded just three years ago, NeuroNET (Neuroscience Network of East Tennessee) was created in response to the rapidly growing neuroscience research and teaching presence across the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), the UT Medical Center of Knoxville (UTMCK) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Directed by Rebecca Prosser, professor of biochemistry and cellular & molecular biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, NeuroNet has grown to more than 100 members. Twenty-five of those members are on the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, representing five different departments. In addition to Prosser, they are: Jim Hall, Alex Osmand, Jae Park (biochemistry & cellular and molecular biology); George Kabalka and Shawn Campagna (chemistry); Fernando Schwartz (mathematics); Harriet Bowden (modern foreign languages and literatures); and Helen Baghdoyan, Debora Baldwin, Gordon Burghardt, Aaron Buss, Matthew Cooper, Daniela Corbetta, Subimal Datta, Todd Freeberg, Lowell Gaertner, Jessica Hay, James Lawler, Theresa Lee, Jake Levy, Ralph Lydic, Greg Reynolds, Gregory Stuart, and Deborah Welsh (psychology).
The research of the NeuroNet memberships spans five broad areas of neuroscience which can be viewed as clusters with overlapping areas:
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience
- Systems Neuroscience
- Neural Engineering and Computational Neuroscience
- Clinical Neuroscience/Nervous System Disorders
Due to the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience, most members are affiliated with more than one of these research areas. Within this broad panorama of basic and clinical science there are several foci where NeuroNET members coalesce in their research interests. These areas of convergence represent potential topics for initial extramural funding proposals:
- Aging/Dementia/Neuropathology/Traumatic Brain Injury
- Sleep and Circadian Homeostatic Processes
- Auditory/Speech Processing
- Neural Sensing, Imaging, Integration, and Interfacing
- Neural/Cognitive DevelopmentMuch of NeuroNET’s progress can be attributed to its establishment as a research center based in UT’s Office of Research and Engagement in July 2014. The center now includes a unique set of resources, research capabilities, and clinical expertise that are strengthened through interactions with other interdisciplinary organizations at UT and UTMCK, such as the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), the Institute for Biomedical Engineering (iBME), and the UT Medical Center Brain and Spine Institute. These interactions have led to external funding from the Kavli Foundation, and have helped launch the Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at the UT Medical Center.
- The NeuroNET Research Center also serves as the organizing center for coordinating and maximizing the success of a new undergraduate interdisciplinary major in neuroscience, a local Society for Neuroscience Chapter, and a student-led organization, Advancement of Neuroscience at UT. Together with these groups, NeuroNET is working to enhance neuroscience research, education, and outreach within the individual institutions and the surrounding community.
The NeuroNET Research Center also serves as the organizing center for coordinating and maximizing the success of a new undergraduate interdisciplinary major in neuroscience, a local Society for Neuroscience Chapter, and a student-led organization, Advancement of Neuroscience at UT. Together with these groups, NeuroNET is working to enhance neuroscience research, education, and outreach within the individual institutions and the surrounding community.
One of the most exciting outcomes of NeuroNet was the creation of an undergraduate concentration in neuroscience housed in the Interdisciplinary Programs Major within the College of Arts and Sciences, which is chaired by Jim Hall, professor of biochemistry and cellular & molecular biology. The neuroscience concentration, which also has an honor’s option, combines courses from multiple departments across several colleges, and aims to provide undergraduates with a broad introduction to neuroscience. It strongly emphasizes research experience, and is designed to prepare students for both graduate school and the health professions; currently more than 125 undergraduates are enrolled in the major. Students can also minor in neuroscience, and many students majoring in BCMB or Psychology are combining that with a neuroscience major or minor. The program’s emphasis on research is already paying off. Ashley Charest, one of the first graduates of the neuroscience program is a shining example.