UA researchers are at the forefront internationally for investigating the complexities of the brain and the factors involved in healthy aging. (Photo: Mamta Popat/UA Foundation)
UA researchers are at the forefront internationally for investigating the complexities of the brain and the factors involved in healthy aging. (Photo: Mamta Popat/UA Foundation)

Nobel Recipients to Celebrate UA Brain Science

Ties to University's faculty will bring internationally renowned brain scholars to campus this week for a public forum and a scientific workshop.
March 23, 2015
Extra Info: 

The speakers will be available to speak with members of the media from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

What: 
Brain Science Open Forum
When: 
11 a.m. Thursday, March 26
Where: 
Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, 1737 E. University Blvd., UA campus
The UA's Carol Barnes says Nobel Prize recipient John O'Keefe "taught me about leadership and the skills that define a great researcher."
The UA's Carol Barnes says Nobel Prize recipient John O'Keefe "taught me about leadership and the skills that define a great researcher."

Four pioneering scholars who are mentors and colleagues to prominent University of Arizona faculty will visit campus this week to talk about their scientific careers, help commemorate several UA brain science milestones and kick off the new Center for Innovation in Brain Science.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Arizona Research Laboratories Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging, the 10th anniversary of the McKnight Brain Institute and the fifth anniversary of the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior at the UA.

The distinguished guests, who will visit on Thursday and Friday, include:

  • Eleanor Maguire, professor of cognitive neuroscience, University College London. Maguire received the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003 for her study involving London taxi drivers.
  • John O’Keefe, professor, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Anatomy, University College London. O’Keefe received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014 for his discovery of place cells.
  • Edvard Moser, professor and director, Kavli Institute of Systems Neuroscience, and co-director, Centre of Neural Computation, University of Oslo, and May-Britt Moser, professor and founding director, Centre of Neural Computation, and co-director, Kavli Institute of Systems Neuroscience, University of Oslo. The Mosers received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014 for their discovery of grid cells.

The UA's close connection to Nobel Prize-winning research is not a coincidence.

O’Keefe and Lynn Nadel, chair of the UA faculty and Regents’ Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at the UA, together wrote the book "The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map" in 1978 and also received the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for their work in identifying the brain's mapping system.

O’Keefe also was the post-doctorate mentor of the UA’s Carol Barnes, Regents' Professor of Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience; director of the McKnight Brain Institute and Arizona Research Laboratories Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging; and associate director of the BIO5 Institute at the UA.

"O'Keefe encouraged me to be bold and persistent," Barnes said. "And I discovered the joy of conducting research and the value of cross-disciplinary exposure to fields ranging from physiology to psychology, engineering, philosophy, music and art.

"He taught me about leadership and the skills that define a great researcher. He always made time for me, just as today I open my door to students. He also gave me the space to explore my ideas, even the wacky ones. Now as I work with students, I've learned to hold the reins loosely, too."

In December, O'Keefe invited Nadel and Barnes to be his guests at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm. O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research that began in the laboratory Barnes shared with them more than 40 years ago.

Nadel and Barnes, along with Mary Peterson, professor of psychology and chair of the UA's School of Mind, Brain and Behavior, in turn invited O’Keefe, the Mosers and Maguire to Tucson.

UA researchers are at the forefront internationally for investigating the complexities of the brain and the factors involved in healthy aging. They have made important contributions to the fields of cognitive and systems neuroscience.

The scope and cost of the problems caused by brain dysfunction are staggering. Last year, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $100 million to begin a major research initiative (BRAIN) aimed at revolutionizing how we study the brain and accelerating the discovery of treatments for the more than 100 million people worldwide with brain diseases.

To make significant progress in the next century on this grand challenge, the BRAIN Initiative specifically calls for the invention of better ways to map the brain’s physical and functional components and connections.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart has named neuroscience as a research priority under Never Settle, the University's strategic plan. The BIO5 Institute and the UA Health Sciences Center have goals of supporting transdisciplinary neuroscience research in partnership with institutions across the state — from the molecular underpinnings of brain-cell health to the translation of this biological knowledge into treatments for neurological disease. The College of Science and the Office for Research and Discovery also are involved in supporting these efforts through the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior; the Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging; and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

To further enhance efforts, the UA recently announced the launch of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, which will unite campus-wide neuroscience efforts, serve as a hub for linking fundamental discoveries to solutions for important clinical problems, and provide training for the next generation of biomedical investigators. The new center is seen as an important introduction in a continuum of UA-affiliated research shaping global scholarship about the brain.

On the significance of having the four distinguished guests visit campus, Nadel noted, “It's exciting for our students to be able to see the people behind the prizes, and it is also an indication of the stature of the UA in this area.”

The UA has world-class scientists working together at the intersection of physics, nanotechnology, imaging, optical sciences, engineering, information technology, genomics and other rapidly emerging fields. Future steps will involve thinking critically about the human, scientific and technological strengths that already exist and about how to build faculty and infrastructure strategically to meet goals, improve brain health and ultimately save lives.