University News

New institute merges study, practice of brain science

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2011

It has no building yet, but with a $15 million endowment and hundreds of soon-to-be affiliated researchers, the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute promises to make its presence felt in the world of medical research.

The institute does not have a mission statement, but it seeks to “build a strong clinical institute around the neurosciences that has a strong academic and research base,” according to John Robson, the newly hired administrative director for the institute. He was hired jointly by the University and Rhode Island Hospital, and his paycheck is split between the two institutions.

Development of the new institute began just over a year ago with a $15 million grant from the Frederick Henry Prince 1932 Trust, which was the largest grant Rhode Island Hospital has ever received, according to a hospital press release.

Though the grant was given to Rhode Island Hospital, it “stipulates that Brown is to be involved in the overall planning and strategy,” said Ed Wing, dean of medicine and biological sciences and a professor of medicine. “We all plan together,” he said.

The institute will be managed through Rhode Island Hospital by a steering board and two directors. Robson reports to Rees Cosgrove, the institute’s clinical director.  

Cosgrove is presently chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Alpert Medical School and chief of neurosurgery at Rhode Island Hospital and the Miriam Hospital. He will continue to hold all three titles.

Previously, Robson was the vice president of operations for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. At the institute, he controlled a $3 billion budget for embryonic stem cell research. He will also be the associate director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

Both Robson and Cosgrove worked at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University at separate times prior to coming to the University, according to Robson. He said this institute consolidated neuroscience research and a neurological hospital in the same place. Robson added that he and Cosgrove hope to create something similar here in Providence.

“We believe that when you have everyone together like that, all in the same place, you get interactions between researchers at all different levels that you don’t get when people are across town from each other,” Robson said.

Cosgrove said that while collaboration already exists between scientists conducting basic research at the University and those pursuing clinical applications at Rhode Island Hospital, they are “not rubbing shoulder to shoulder in the same place,” which would be “the best way to encourage collaboration.”

The two directors and the steering committee are now working to finalize a budget and an administrative structure. They then hope to identify a few key programs in the University’s brain science departments in which they can focus on creating clinical collaboration and joint research projects.

Undergraduates can expect to have a role in this new institute. Wing said there are already several undergraduates in labs in the Jewelry District and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute will follow suit. “They are welcome and there will be opportunities in each of those departments, as well as in the labs on campus,” he said. “That’s one of the good things about being an undergrad at Brown. It’s pretty open.” He said undergraduates should ask their professors about these opportunities, especially when summer becomes closer.

“Having the chance to work hands-on will be a very different experience for undergrads,” said Clara Kliman-Silver ’13, a cognitive neuroscience concentrator who has worked in University labs since her freshman year.

“Something like this, in a hospital environment, will be good,” she added. “Working in a University lab gives you an expectation of real-world research, but working in a hospital would be a good new experience.”

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