About Translational Neuroscience

Neuroscience is among the most rapidly developing branches of medicine and biology.

The last decade has brought an amazingly rapid accumulation of information concerning all aspects of neuroscience, especially as it pertains to neurological, psychological, and psychiatric disciplines. Advances in basic neurosciences have been impressive, fueled by the spirit of research that marked the 'Decade of the Brain' during the 1990s.

Promising applications of this expanding knowledge are only slowly being realized. Previously, biological markers for psychiatric or cognitive disorders have been misleading due to limitations, including the inability to study the functioning human brain directly. There are few objective diagnostic markers despite the availability of pharmacological agents and other therapeutic procedures that effectively control symptoms of some of these debilitating and common disorders.

Considering the gap between clinical and basic neuroscience, there is an unprecedented need to develop investigators who are capable of bridging the basic-clinical neuroscience divide in the burgeoning field of translational neuroscience.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) Roadmap Initiative recently validated this training need in the form of a cross-institute strategic plan to fund novel neuroscience educational training programs focused on translational neuroscience (Zerhouni EA: "Translational and clinical science--time for a new vision", New England Journal of Medicine, 353(15): 1621-3, 2005, Oct 13). The realization that translational strategies can successfully improve health in a timely fashion, combined with leadership from the NIH, is bringing basic and clinical science together in an unprecedented manner. Importantly, major funding agencies such as the NIH and Howard Hughes Medical Institute have recently declared a high priority for training programs that will maintain the pipeline of scientists who are capable of leading translational research careers.

Translational Neuroscience is defined as:

  1. Experimental non-human and non-clinical (basic science) studies conducted with the specific intent to discover mechanisms, biomarkers, pathogenesis or treatments of nervous system disorders; and
  2. Clinical studies that provide a foundation for developing, or that directly test, novel therapeutic strategies for humans with nervous system disorders.
colorful brain images

In Wayne State University President Irvin Reid's 2006-2011 strategic plan, Reid specifically seeks to "encourage a translational and multi-disciplinary approach to research", "develop effective ways to maximize research funding based on the NIH Roadmap that identifies and prioritizes compelling areas of medical research", and "eliminate institutional barriers to interdisciplinary work." Thus, at the highest administrative level, WSU is oriented toward actively pursuing interdisciplinary and translational research.

Partly in response to national biomedical needs in research and clinical care, WSU has identified neuroscience as an area of excellence and a high priority for its strategic initiatives.

In addition, the University, led by the School of Medicine, submitted and has been awarded a NIH planning grant that will be used to apply for an Institutional Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) within the next 2-3 years.

As indicated in the request for applications (RFA),"The goal of the Institutional CTSA program [described in RFA-RM-06-002] is to create an academic home (as a Center, Department, Institute or other) environment that will develop the discipline of clinical and translational science, increase the efficiency and speed of clinical research, and train the next generation of clinical and translational scientists."

This proposed Translational Neuroscience Program is specifically designed to be concordant with the overall goals of creating the CTSA.

Why TNP Is Unique
The uniqueness of the translational neuroscience program (TNP) derives chiefly from the focus on the clinical-basic interface that runs through the curriculum as well as the administrative home in the Department of Psychiatry.

The focus is on a broad range of psychiatric disorders, e.g. substance abuse, schizophrenia, mood disorders, and neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, autism, brain injury, and peripheral neuropathy, across which significant expertise exists now at Wayne State University, as well as a range of clinically relevant techniques of neuroscience spanning electrophysiology, neuropharmacology and neuroimaging.

Faculty members who teach in the graduate program include M.D. and Ph.D. scientists with extensive experience in clinical and basic neuroscience research and in pre- and post-doctoral education.

TNP training faculty members come from a wide array of university units (including both primary and secondary appointments). Additions are anticipated as the TNP develops to include faculty from other units, such as Biological Sciences, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Computer Science, Mathematics, Neurological Surgery, Pharmacy, and Physics.