As one of seven grantees, out of 37 proposals, the Medical School’s Graduate Program Initiative in Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience has received a $500,000 grant from the UT System Board of Regents.
The funding will be used to support and attract students and create a theoretical and computational track as part of the Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences’ Neuroscience Program. The program will build on existing work at the UT Health Science Center, as well as the Gulf Coast Consortia and train students in this burgeoning research field.
"Although neuroscience is multidisciplinary, it is seldom interdisciplinary because it is difficult for individuals to integrate information across these different levels of analysis," said Dr. Harel Shouval, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, and primary investigator on the grant. "However, a true understanding of the brain will ultimately require such an interdisciplinary approach, and the emerging field of theoretical and computational neuroscience provides this integrated view through the application of mathematical and computational methods to the complex questions of brain science."
A group of undergraduates who will come in late May for 10 weeks for the Research Experience for Undergraduates, a program of the Gulf Coast Consortia, will be the first funded by the new grant.
"We have funds for two to three grad students a year and about three undergrads per year," Shouval said. "We will have additional students funded directly by the GSBS and by the graduate advisers."
Theoretical and computational neuroscience uses "mathematical and computational tools to integrate and unify complex and multi-disciplinary experimental data" according to Dr. L. Maximilian Buja, executive vice president for academic affairs.
"Although this field is becoming more prominent, most graduate programs are not well equipped to educate students in this field, both because the faculty do not have the required qualifications, and because the appropriate types of students are not attracted to the study of biology," Buja said. "The Neuroscience Program at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston is ahead of the curve in that we have a significant number of faculty members with these research interests and skills; we hold several federal grants in this field, and we can leverage the benefits we receive from our association with the Gulf Coast Consortium in Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience."
"The award represents a significant recognition of the strengths that the department has developed in this area," said Dr. John Byrne, chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and co-primary investigator on the grant. "It will allow us to expand the program further and attract outstanding faculty and graduate students."
Support from the UT System will help shape the direction of this program.
"This essential funding will kick-start the program, especially now with the funding for research down nationally," Shouval said.
This story was originally written by Darla Brown for The Scoop, a publication of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.