Subject: Young Neuroscientists’ Workshop – Focusing more young scientists on brain repair for children.
Location: Solvang, California
- Kenneth Kosik, MD, Professor of Neuroscience Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara
- Jeffrey D. Macklis; Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University, and Professor of Neurology [Neuroscience] and of Surgery [Neurosurgery], Harvard Medical School; Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Center for Brain Science, and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University
Attendees: Pediatric Brain Foundation, Santa Barbara Neuroscience Research Institute, senior faculty members, young neuroscientists, developmental and pediatric neuroscientists, neuroscience trainees, post-doctoral fellows, including Dr. Evan Snyder from the Burnham Institute.
Recap: In September 2007, Pediatric Brain Foundation and the UC Santa Barbara Neuroscience Research Institute launched the first annual Young Neuroscientists’ Workshop. This meeting series is intended to expose young neuroscientists to emerging thinking about childhood brain disorders, with the long-term aim of seeing more of these young investigators incorporate the study of these disorders into their career objectives. This event sponsored by Pediatric Brain Foundation brought 10 senior faculty members together with 25 junior scientists in Solvang, CA for four days of intensive scientific discovery and collaboration.
The Young Neuroscientists’ Workshop
By Donald Marion, MD, Science Officer
On Sunday, September 16, the Pediatric Brain Foundation gathered a group of neuroscientists and concerned parents at the Alisal Ranch in Solvang, California, for a 3-day meeting. The meeting’s main purpose was to expose bright young neuroscientists to state-of-the-art concepts about childhood brain disorders. We invited ten of the most accomplished developmental and pediatric neuroscientists in the US to serve as the faculty and 30 of the best neuroscience trainees and post-doctoral fellows from across the country to participate. The goal was to immerse these gifted young researchers in cutting-edge science that is most likely to lead to cures for many developmental and acquired childhood neurological diseases.
The meeting’s centerpiece was “The Game.” In this interactive exercise, the young neuroscientists were divided into six teams to develop proposals for studying developmental or acquired childhood neurologic disorders. After choosing among a list of diseases to study, each team was instructed to address specific research questions using a standardized format. They were given Tuesday afternoon as dedicated time to concentrate on writing their proposals, but the infectious enthusiasm for this exercise was evident when most of the teams were spied working late into the night on Monday and into the early morning hours of Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, the teams presented their proposals in a “chalk talk” format and answered questions from the faculty. A panel of the faculty evaluated the quality of the proposals, and members of the teams that produced the two best projects were awarded certificates and cash prizes.
Another highlight of the meeting was Sunday evening’s welcome reception. All of the young neuroscientists provided a snapshot of their current research in a poster presentation. Each thoughtfully took the time to explain complex research concepts to the parents of special needs children and other lay individuals in attendance. Later that evening, actress Laura San Giacomo brought the gravity of the problem of neurological disorders in children to a very personal level when she poignantly described the life of her own son with special needs. Using his love of playing the cello as a metaphor, she explained how just a small improvement in his functional abilities—even the ability to play another note—would mean so much to him and other children with similar disabilities.
The meeting was co-chaired by Kenneth Kosik, MD, Professor of Neuroscience Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Jeffrey D. Macklis; Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Harvard University, and Professor of Neurology [Neuroscience] and of Surgery [Neurosurgery], Harvard Medical School; Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Center for Brain Science, and Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Harvard University. On Monday and Tuesday, the faculty members presented their research and described how their studies related to specific childhood neurologic diseases. Ample time was allotted for questions from the young neuroscientists, giving them the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of research strategies and methods that might be applied to their own projects. The faculty provided important insight into the molecular biology of congenital neurological disorders and the challenges for repair and regeneration. Dr. Evan Snyder from the Burnham Institute, La Jolla, California, gave several talks about how stem cells might be used to restore function in pediatric neurodegenerative disorders. For the past several years, Dr. Snyder has been conducting research partially funded by The Pediatric Brain Foundation to investigate how stem cells might be used to treat Sandoff’s Disease, a severe form of Tay-Sachs disease.
All of us involved in the planning and execution of this workshop were delighted with the enthusiastic interaction of the young scientists, with each other and with the more senior investigators, in relaxed settings that included marshmallow roasts at a bonfire, and a lakeside barbecue followed by star gazing and night fishing. We are convinced that we have stimulated some of the best and brightest of the next generation of neuroscientists to refocus their research on the genetic, developmental, and acquired neurologic diseases of childhood. As Dr. Macklis suggested, the friendships developed at this meeting will undoubtedly last for many years and facilitate the kinds of scientific exchanges that can lead to rapid breakthroughs in even the most complicated of childhood neurologic diseases.”