Musings from a Weeklong Immersion in Brain Research in the US Southeast
I recently spent a week traveling through the US Southeast together with our regional field team colleagues, Sarah MacNamee, Ph.D., Shanna Resendez, Ph.D., and Patrick Stemkowski, Ph.D. This trip was an opportunity to engage with neuroscientists utilizing our technology, and to immerse myself in the community of brain researchers thriving in the US Southeast. During the trip, we had the privilege of visiting ~30 research labs including at Medical University of South Carolina, Vanderbilt, UNC Chapel Hill, NIH/NIEHS, Duke, Scripps Research Florida, Florida Atlantic University, and Max Planck Florida. Rich in both neuroscience and culture, the Southeast tour was intense (on a plane every night!) but also energizing, motivating, and thought-provoking. I thought I’d share four key observations and takeaways:
Brain researchers in the Southeast are on the cutting-edge
From songbird learning to sleep, and from addiction to depression, researchers at institutions across the Southeast are pushing the frontiers of neuroscience – motivated by the desire to address pressing, unmet clinical needs. Of importance to current issues plaguing our society, researchers at MUSC are heavily focused on decoding neural circuits underlying addiction. As part of these research efforts, labs across the institution are employing Inscopix technology to visualize how neurons within key nodes of reward circuitry, such as the prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, and ventral pallidum, respond to the consumption of naturally rewarding stimuli, such as a palatable food item, as well as drugs of abuse, such as cocaine. Through these collective research efforts, brain researchers at MUSC hope to understand how drugs of abuse usurp brain reward circuitry to produce addictive states. It was also exciting to learn how individual labs employ Inscopix technology to the diverse array of research topics within neuroscience. For example, the Mooney lab at Duke University utilizes Inscopix technology to visualize the neural encoding of song learning in zebra finches, an example of innate learning that is regulated by highly conserved neural circuitry.
We must do more to support talented trainees and early career investigators
I was particularly struck by the students, postdocs, and the early career investigators I met – bold, passionate, and the future of neuroscience. Take the example of a trailblazing physician-scientist at Duke, Kafui Dzirasa, M.D., Ph.D. Kaf is the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Duke. Trained in psychiatry, he is motivated to study how brain circuits go awry in psychiatric disorders, and his lab is working on finding the “circuit signature” for depression, which could pave the way for novel therapies to correct the circuit. Kaf, and so many of the early career investigators I met, inspired me with their vision and their fearlessness, and reminded me of Inscopix’s responsibility – in fact, our collective responsibility – to invest in and support these emerging leaders of our field.
Technological innovation is necessary, but insufficient to catalyze progress in brain science
If my interactions with researchers in the US Southeast are representative of the movement that is afoot in the global neuroscience ecosystem, I have no doubt that continued technological innovation will enable game-changing breakthroughs in neuroscience. However, during the trip, it became even more evident to me that being able to generate data with new tools is great, but not enough. I am convinced more than ever that researchers across the spectrum are results-driven, and want to get to trustworthy results quickly and efficiently. For this to happen technology needs to be part of a solution, an end-to-end value chain that takes the researcher from sample prep to scientific insight, reliably, reproducibly, and economically. Generating data routinely, managing and analyzing that data with ease, and publishing results that can be reproduced are key to moving our field forward. We will deliver on this mission, and double down on our commitment to provide researchers with complete end-to-end solutions, spanning sample prep to analytics.
Brain Research is a Human Endeavor. Let’s Break Barriers Together.
This trip was an emphatic reminder that brain research at its core is a human endeavor. At the end of the day, enabling breakthroughs in neuroscience, and catalyzing progress, is as much about working together as it is about providing new tools and complete solutions. I would be remiss if I didn’t end by expressing how proud I was to see our regional field team partnering with scientists on-the-ground. They are passionate not only about helping scientists succeed in their research, but also genuinely care about the scientists they serve. We at Inscopix are truly privileged to serve an extraordinary community of visionaries, achievers and doers. We are building long-lasting relationships across states and across borders and we will continue to work across disciplines, institutions, and sectors. We must work together as a community, united by our common cause to unravel the dazzling mysteries of the brain and improve the quality of life of all people on this planet.