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Introduction/Overview of Brain Disorders

05/04/2009 1:00 PM 46"3002
Dr. Susan Hockfield, President, MIT; Mriganka Sur, Newton Professor in Neuroscience; Head, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Description: In their symposium introduction, Susan Hockfield and Mriganka Sur place MIT at the forefront of a revolution in neuroscience. Hockfield, a neuroscientist by training, recaps the evolution of the discipline at MIT, from its 1964 start in the Department of Psychology to the more recent establishment of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. These changes mirror the transformation of a field in which, says Hockfield, "at first you could do little more than make qualitative observations about behavior and only speculate about causes, to one that can examine brain function at the level of molecules and cell circuits; that can conduct quantitative experiments with genetically targeted model systems and can directly observe the living human brain in action."

We are now poised "for the first time in human history to deliver scientifically designed, rational therapies for some crippling disorders of the brain." Hockfield credits MIT's progress to "meta"experiments," specifically collaborations among scientists and engineers, and the generosity of patrons.

Mriganka Sur and his colleagues believe "the vast majority of brain disorders have their roots in brain wiring gone awry," so a solution to such disorders lies in understanding the wiring, and its associated functions. MIT gets at these questions from many angles of research, including the genetic underpinnings of brain development, the architecture of synaptic pathways and networks, and the brain's response to environmental stimuli. MIT addresses research problems through a "unique interdisciplinary effort" comprising molecular biology, neuron and cognitive science, and computation. What's more, researchers have united behind a singular mission -- a "wish to make a difference in the world" -- which involves a specific focus on addressing such brain disorders and diseases as dyslexia, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and autism. "There is not one other entity like this anywhere else," says Sur, who believes MIT's potential for future impact is "virtually limitless."

About the Speaker(s): Mriganka Sur has received numerous awards and honors, including the Charles Judson Herrick Award from the American Association of Anatomists (1983), the A.P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship (1985), the McKnight Neuroscience Development Award (1988), the MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award (1989), and the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching (2000).

Sur graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1974 with a Bachelor of Technology degree. He received an M.S. (1975) and Ph.D. (1978) from Vanderbilt University. After doing postdoctoral research at SUNY Stony Brook and a faculty appointment at Yale University School of Medicine, Sur joined the faculty of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 1986. He was named full Professor in 1993, associate department head in 1994, and head in 1997. Prior to her arrival at MIT in 2004, Susan Hockfield served as Provost at Yale University, where she was also William Edward Gilbert Professor of Neurobiology. She previously served as Dean of Yale's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Hockfield is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

She earned a B.A. in biology from the University of Rochester in 1973, and a Ph.D. in anatomy and neuroscience from the Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1979.

Host(s): School of Science, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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