Introduction/Overview of Brain Disorders

author: Susan Hockfield, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Mriganka Sur, Laboratory of Mriganka Sur, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Oct. 7, 2010,   recorded: May 2009,   views: 3195

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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.”

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