Michigan Neuroscience Institute

brain scanNeuroscience is a young and exciting field that addresses one of the great challenges of modern science—understanding how the brain gives rise to ideas, emotions, perceptions, motivations, actions and consciousness. This knowledge is not only intrinsically fascinating but is key for treating and preventing brain disorders, which present a staggering burden on humankind.

The University of Michigan has a distinguished history in this field. Indeed, the word "Neuroscience" was coined at UM by Dr. Ralph Gerard, the founding president of the Society for Neuroscience. Since then, the UM neuroscience community has made innumerable seminal contributions to the field. The depth and breadth of neuroscience research and training at Michigan can currently be found in 7 different schools and colleges, 27 departments, and 15 institutes and centers. The Neuroscience Graduate Program has more than 150 faculty members, representing departments across UM’s various schools and colleges. The distribution of our expertise is a great strength, but it also dilutes our cohesion and visibility. The question is: How do we create new synergies, enable great discoveries and enhance the visibility and impact of Michigan Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is highly interdisciplinary and requires approaches ranging from molecular mechanisms to behavioral and social analyses. It demands state of the art technologies, novel tools, computational, and imaging power. Increasingly, it requires the disruption of barriers to collaboration among research groups and disciplines. The UM, comprised of top-tier schools and colleges that span all levels of human knowledge, represents a unique setting for a powerful, far-reaching and collaborative campus-wide neuroscience initiative.

In the Medical School, the the Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences Institute (MBNI; a physical entity that has allocated space and existing primary faculty appointed in partnership with numerous departments across schools) has served for over 60 years as a key locus of neuroscience research on campus, producing distinguished national and international leaders as well as important contributions to neuroscience research.

Significant opportunities have recently accelerated efforts to invest in, coalesce, and unite the neuroscience community across the University.  Drs. Huda Akil and Stan Watson, who have stated their desire to step down as co-directors of MBNI, expressed the hope that the search for their replacement could help to create a mechanism to catalyze increased collaboration among neuroscientists and neuroscience-related programs across campus. The University began a dialogue and set out to identify new leadership that could develop a robust, cross-campus neuroscience institute.  As a first step in this process to, the Regents changed the name of MBNI to the Michigan Neuroscience Institute (MNI) on December 5, 2019. Drs. Akil and Watson have been serving as MNI co-Directors since January 1, 2020. The Biosciences Initiative has also expressed significant interest in supporting neuroscience faculty growth and recruitment

A Vision for the Future of the Michigan Neuroscience Institute

The vision for the future of MNI encompasses a broad virtual entity that serves to link and enhance neuroscience across the entire UM campus, as well as a physical research site that houses core neuroscience faculty and resources.

An Institute with a Physical Home & Virtual Reach with an Integrative Mission

MNI will be provided with defined space to house faculty as well as establish a virtual reach across campus using an affiliation model that has served other major U-M centers and institutes to be inclusive and far reaching. Existing primary MNI faculty will continue their membership in MNI under the terms presently established and will be integral to the effort to build bridges to other units within Michigan Medicine and across the UM campus. The MNI will invest in synergistic infrastructure and recruitment packages aimed at enriching neuroscience across the entire campus. Academic appointments of new affiliated faculty and faculty recruitments will remain with academic departments in schools/colleges, which will retain the salary lines, space costs, and funds from grants and indirect costs.

Given these broad charges, the MNI will be led by a Director, who will be supported and counseled by a small executive committee comprised of university stakeholders (e.g., from CoE, LSA, Med, and SPH). CLICK HERE to learn more about the current search for an Interim Director.

Functions of the Future

A major opportunity for growth in the neurosciences at Michigan is the creation of an integrated network that achieves synergy in the pursuit of addressing the most pressing questions in neuroscience at the foundational, translational, and clinical levels, while educating the future leaders in the field. The Michigan Neuroscience Institute could include, but is not limited to, the following activities:

  • Develop a unifying strategic vision for U-M neuroscience that considers the full depth and breadth of U-M neuroscientists.
  • Cultivate a highly-collaborative, inclusive, and diverse environment that provides rich and dynamic intellectual engagement, support for innovation and multidisciplinary work, and development of new collaborations, initiatives, infrastructure, and services that attract a wide range of outstanding investigators to the institute. Function as a bridge across neuroscience disciplines and neuroscience units on campus.
  • Establish signature research programs/themes to facilitate high-impact research that extends from fundamental discovery to clinical translation and improved prevention and treatment of disease.
  • Actively promote multidisciplinary, multi-school, large-scale grant proposals and provide project management and supplemental unit-based pre- and post-award administrative support.
  • Serve as the administrative home for the Neuroscience Graduate Program in order to promote graduate education in the neurosciences, partnering with the Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies and school/college stakeholders.
  • Offer educational opportunities for the broader neuroscience community of learners and faculty (e.g., neuroscience boot camp, short courses on novel techniques, data analysis workshops, lecture/symposium series).
  • Recruit, develop, mentor, and retain outstanding neuroscience faculty in partnership with academic departments. Create a robust system for mentoring early-career faculty.
  • Develop new cores specific to the needs of neuroscientists and establish strong partnerships and service pathways with existing campus cores and resources.
  • Coordinate the campus-wide neuroscience community with a comprehensive website, profiling U-M neuroscience experts to achieve national visibility for U-M neuroscience, MNI, and its affiliated faculty.
  • Lead, in partnership with the Development and Alumni Relations Office, a robust philanthropic program.
  • Elevate Michigan’s reputation and standing as a premier institution in the field of neuroscience.

This vision requires the selection of an outstanding neuroscientist as the MNI Director, who is both a leader in the field and has the skills and commitment to lead this major initiative.

Questions? Contact ummsresearch@umich.edu.