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Neuroscience symposium creates collaboration opportunities

Faculty, students and researchers from across the valley share their knowledge o
January 20, 2015

Arizona State University’s neuroscience community has such diverse research areas that it does not often come together as a group. But last week, the School of Life Science’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience hosted its fifth research symposium, giving more than 100 scientists an opportunity to share their knowledge with each other.

“The goal of the event was to highlight connections between basic science and the potential for biomedical application,” said Janet Neisewander, School of Life Sciences professor and director of ASU’s neuroscience program. “We want to promote the sentiment that both basic science and clinical work improve our health and everyday lives.

This year’s theme was "transitional neuroscience," which bridges the gap between research and practical application. Both keynote speakers at the symposium reflected that theme in their presentations.

The first speaker, Dora Angelaki, is the Wilhelmina Robertson Professor and chairman of the neuroscience department at Baylor College of Medicine. She is also a professor of psychology and electrical and computer engineering at Rice University. Her lecture focused on the way neurons compute the input they receive from multiple senses at once. Angelaki shared how her research helps explain why diseases such as autism and schizophrenia make that process go astray.

Paul Larson, an associate clinical professor and vice chair of neurological surgery at the University of California-San Francisco and an alumnus of ASU School of Life Sciences, spoke later on the surgical techniques he has developed to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and Tourette’s syndrome. Using cutting-edge, deep brain stimulation technology, Larson can greatly reduce the symptoms of neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases more effectively than ever before.

“The symposium created an excellent opportunity to bring the neuroscience community together,” said Pat McGurrin, a doctoral student in the program. “One exciting aspect of the event is hearing about research from a variety of perspectives. That often stimulates novel directions and collaborations for research among our faculty and students.”

Throughout the symposium, breakout sessions offered participants a chance to discuss new discoveries on the mechanisms of motor functions, aging and age-related diseases, psychiatric disorders and brain mapping technologies. In addition, attendees gathered to see dozens of ASU students share their research through poster presentations.

According to Neisewander, collaborative learning makes events such as the symposium important.

“It’s the heart of research – it grows through these environments,” Neisewander said. “Communication of ongoing work stimulates thinking and can improve research in all areas of neuroscience.”

McGurrin added that the knowledge shared at the symposium reaffirms the importance of neuroscience research in creating new treatments for serious conditions that affect people today.

Funding for the symposium was provided by ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASU Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, Graduate Association of Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Students and Barrow Neurological Institute. Their support allowed faculty and students across the university to explore neuroscience as a community.