October 31, 1997

New Ph.D. program to enhance brain research

New Ph.D. program to enhance brain research

Research into the inner workings of the human brain at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was bolstered recently with the creation of a new Ph.D. program in Neuroscience.

The Graduate School program is an interdisciplinary initiative that trains students in molecular neuroscience, including genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and cell biology.

"Neuroscience is unique because it is the study of multiple aspects of the brain, which controls all body functions," said Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry.

"In order to study all these different kinds of brain functions and disease, we need to apply the knowledge from many different disciplines."

Once enrolled in the new Neuroscience Ph.D. program, students have the opportunity to train in the laboratories of the 34 Neuroscience faculty members.

"Our faculty comes from all seven basic science departments in the interdisciplinary graduate program (IGP) and some have their primary appointments in the clinical departments of Neurology, Psychiatry, or Medicine," said Sanders-Bush.

Students train in three lab rotations so that they have a broad range of different skills for neuroscience research. The faculty of the Neuroscience program hopes to prepare students to be able to bridge the gap from research into molecules and cells to behavior and human disease.

"The ultimate goal is that these students will be able to follow their lines of research all the way through to the bedside," said Sanders-Bush.

Helping to facilitate the new Ph.D. program was VUMC's recent creation of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience, which brought together all the different departments involved in brain related research. As part of its mission to promote neurological research and training at Vanderbilt, the center handles the administrative duties associated with the graduate degree program.

"The Center for Molecular Neuroscience provided the administrative structure that gave identity to the Ph.D. program," said Sanders-Bush.

"It was very important to have the students feel like they were part of something worth working for, and the Center for Molecular Neuroscience did that."

The second structure that made the new Ph.D. program possible was the IGP, which takes in students for graduate training in the basic biomedical sciences.

In the first year of their training, students in the IGP take course work common to all the basic biomedical sciences and encourages them to take ideas from research literature.

They are also put into three different laboratories before they choose which one they wish to study with for the rest of their time in the program.

"The IGP was created so that all the basic biomedical science departments would be able pool their graduate students together to learn the common lessons that graduate students learn in the first year," said G. Roger Chalkley, professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Biochemistry and director of Biomedical Graduate Studies.

This year there are 50 students enrolled in the IGP who can choose to enter the Ph.D. program in Neuroscience in the spring.

"The IGP was critical to our efforts in creating this program and really set the stage at VUMC for large-scale, interdepartmental recruiting," said Sanders-Bush.