A LITTLE HISTORY: More than 60 years ago, Penn Professor of Anatomy Louis Flexner had a novel idea: Create a place where brain experts, no matter the discipline, could come together to discuss theories and work collaboratively. Founded as the Institute of Neurological Sciences, today, this groundbreaking interdisciplinary home is known as the Mahoney Institute for Neurosciences (MINS). It is still interdisciplinary to the core, drawing more than 150 researchers from 32 departments in six of Penn’s 12 schools.
BE INCLUSIVE: John A. Dani, the director of MINS and chair of the Department of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM), says Penn currently boasts many centers dedicated to specific issues in neuroscience, including cognition, sleep, and vision. At MINS, he says he wants to be inclusive and open-minded about there being no boundary of where neuroscience can reach, “whether it’s bioengineering for new kinds of probes, into the Department of Surgery for the implantation of these new technologies, or it’s into the psychology department or even psychiatry department for mental illness.”
A ‘GOLDEN AGE’: Dani says that this is a “golden age” in the field of neuroscience. “Technology and molecular and genetic approaches are converging to allow us to do things we could never do before,” he says. “The power of molecular biology and molecular genetics is now being brought into the hands of pharmacologists, physiologists, psychologists, and biophysicists so they can understand the system-level neuroscience as it applies to animal models of disease and even to understand higher level measurements in humans in a way that’s unprecedented.”
DIVERSE PROJECTS: True to its mission, MINS research projects span a wide spectrum, including an examination of addiction, depression, and degenerative diseases from an interdisciplinary perspective. Other collaborations include work that Amita Sehgal, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience, has done with Allan Pack, a professor in the Department of Medicine, on issues around sleep. In addition, David Brainard, a professor of psychology, is working on a grant with members of the Department of Neuroscience.
FUTURE LEADERS: Besides being a center of collaboration for researchers, MINS also houses the Neuroscience Graduate Program, which was named the 2013 Society for Neuroscience Graduate Program of the Year. Dani says the 10 to 25 students brought into the program each year are a “unifying aspect” at the Institute. MINS hosts seminars that bring together members of the graduate program, and researchers from a variety of disciplines, and also holds an annual retreat.
REACHING OUT: MINS looks beyond Penn to engage the Philadelphia community, as well. Since the 1990s, MINS has been affiliated with the Kids Judge! Neuroscience Fair for elementary school students, the Regional Brain Bee for high school students, Brain Awareness Week activities at the Franklin Institute, and the Upward Bound Neuroscience Course for high school sophomores and juniors.
LOOKING AHEAD: Dani says he hopes to encourage even more interdisciplinary work at MINS. “There are literally dozens of centers on campus that have some connection to neuroscience and so I think what MINS can be is the place you turn when you truly want to reach across disciplines, rather than focus on a particular topic, you want to have a program that reaches across campus, or you want to recruit across campus,” says Dani. “I think the important part of MINS is we’re inclusive.”