URI launches new graduate interdisciplinary neuroscience program with international neurology leader; former congressman

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 16, 2011 – The University of Rhode Island will launch its interdisciplinary graduate neuroscience program next month with two events showcasing the vast potential that exists when you join neuroscience with other disciplines, such as engineering, pharmacy, psychology, and many more.

President of Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Patrick Aebischer, will visit the Kingston campus Dec. 5 through 7, 2011, to kick off the program to the scientific and academic community. A neuroscientist, Aebischer is world-renowned for his research on the development of cell and gene transfer approaches for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases that affect millions of people, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Embodying the globalization of higher education and the importance of international partnerships, Aebischer will meet with URI President David M. Dooley and administrators, academic leaders from throughout New England, neuroscience students, and faculty during his time on campus. He will also tour URI facilities and go on neurology grand rounds at Rhode Island Hospital.

“Patrick is known internationally as a star in the area of gene therapy for neurodegenerative diseases,” said Nasser Zawia, dean of URI’s Graduate School, who has spent the past two years leading the charge to create the new program. “It sets the tone that URI is committed to neuroscience, which is one of the last scientific frontiers where fundamental discoveries can still be made.”

The new graduate major taps into the 32 University professors and researchers who are already doing neuroscience work in their specific areas. It draws on the expertise of 15 departments and that number will grow. The program has six students enrolled this semester. An increase of 10 students is expected next year.

Aebischer will introduce the new major Tuesday, Dec. 6, when he speaks on, “Viral vectors and neurodegenerative disease,” at 4 p.m. at the University Club on Upper College Road. As part of the Distinguished International Visiting Scholar Program, he will also speak on “The globalization of higher education institutions: a European view,” on Monday, Dec. 5, at 4 p.m. in the Lippitt Hall Auditorium, 5 Lippitt Road, Kingston.

As part of the launch, U.S. Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy will also give a public talk. Kennedy is a longtime advocate for neurological research, wider access to mental health care, and improved care for veterans with brain injuries. He is co-founder of One Mind for Research, a newly formed national coalition that is seeking cures for neurological and psychiatric diseases that afflict one in every three Americans.

Kennedy will speak Thursday, Dec. 1, at noon in the Memorial Union Ballroom, 50 Lower College Road, Kingston. The URI community and the public are invited to attend this town-hall style conversation, which will last for an hour and feature questions and answers.

“Our speakers demonstrate how varied and far-reaching neuroscience can be,” said Zawia, remarking on an influx of new techniques, such as deep-brain stimulation, brain imaging, the mapping and sequencing of genes and the subsequent analysis. “It is anything and everything having to do with the brain.”

URI’s new graduate interdisciplinary neuroscience program offers master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees with the goal of educating scientists and professors who can contribute to private and public sector research and industry.

The potential growth in the development of the $10 billion-a-year neuro-device industry is expected to increase 22 percent annually, according to the proposal for the new program, which was approved by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education in June. Rhode Island has yet to truly have an impact on this field and the new program will develop researchers and entrepreneurs who could reverse that trend.