With more than 100 researchers, each with his or her own specialty, Yale’s neurology department could be said to be almost as sophisticated as the brain itself. Through the new Kavli Institute, the department will be able to further coordinate research both inside and outside the department.
The institute is designed to fund various fields related to the study of neurology, through a gift from the Kavli Foundation, a national research organization.
“The idea of the institute is to get the people to talk to each other more, to get a group of investigators [who] were chosen to bridge the levels of complexity,” Fred Sigworth, a professor of physiology and biomedical engineering, said.
The institute’s goal is to understand the basis of human thought on all levels. Seminars and discussions will help professors collaborate to connect the different fields within the medical discipline. Neurology covers a wide variety of studies, from the smallest molecule to high cognitive performance, said Amy Arnsten, director of graduate studies in neurobiology.
“We will do more than just exchanging data,” David McCormick, a neurobiology professor, said. “We will be physically doing experiments with other researchers.”
The institute has also scheduled Dr. Terry Sejnowski to speak to the Kavli fellows in the near future. Sejnowski, a professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, uses computer simulations to gain a better understanding of how the brain works.
“We felt that we should invite someone whose work is also multi-disciplinary,” Pasko Rakic, director of the Kavli Institute, said.
Long-term plans for the center include organizing a yearly or bi-yearly conference, which would feature a day of speakers from all continents. Rakic added that a symposium focusing on the frontal cortex is in the works.
Sigworth said working with the brain is much like working on a computer — there are specialists for the smallest piece as well as the larger whole.
“I’m like the engineer that thinks about the single transistors. Others study the circuitry, and then there are people who try to see how the whole machine works,” Sigworth said.
One of the additional benefits of receiving funding from the Kavli Foundation is that it gives researchers more freedom, Arnsten said.
“This is an opportunity to do some high-risk research that the National Institutes of Health would normally not fund,” he said.
Because the major goal of National Institute of Health is to cure disease, some of more conceptual research receives less funding, Rakic said.
The Kavli Foundation has helped create several other institutes across the country, including at Cornell, Caltech, the University of Chicago, and Stanford. These institutes are designed to focus on three areas of research: cosmology, neuroscience, and nanoscience. The Yale Kavli Institute will work closely with the neuroscience institutes at the University of Calfornia-San Diego and at Columbia.
The assistance of the Kavli Foundation will benefit the neurology program at Yale, Rakic said.
“Human thought is unique, yet we have the same types of cells as other animals,” Rakic said. “The brain is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.”