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Symposium Honors NIDA's Brown
By Patrick Zickler
Sometimes, advice that offers just the right encouragement or shift in direction can launch a whole career of scientific research. For more than two decades, Dr. Roger Brown provided insight and support to scientists exploring the ways that drugs act on the brain; the work he initiated and encouraged laid the groundwork for the neuroscience of addiction. On May 14-15, more than 300 researchers met in Natcher auditorium to honor Brown's life and legacy at a NIDA-sponsored symposium, "Foundations and Innovations in the Neuroscience of Addiction." Brown, who was associate director for neuroscience at NIDA, died last June.
NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow welcomed participants to the symposium by noting the broad impact of Brown's influence. "These meetings, and all the science that we will hear about over the next 2 days, are products of Roger's insight," she said. "Some of the earliest work in neuroscience, and much of the work that formed the foundation of our knowledge in the field, are the results of Roger's effort."
Volkow also shared a more personal recollection from early in her research career. "In 1988, I was submitting my first grant applications to conduct brain imaging studies. Not everyone recognized the technology's promise," she recalled. "Roger was my program officer. He understood how imaging studies could be applied to very basic science and said, 'Nora, don't give up.' Of course, I didn't, and thanks to Roger's encouragement we were able to establish the brain imaging program at Brookhaven National Laboratory."
In her keynote presentation, Dr. Patricia Goldman-Rakic of Yale University School of Medicine described Brown's contributions when he joined her intramural research team at NIMH. "Roger was a wonderful colleague," she said. "Inquisitive, energetic, and generous. And he made important contributions to the very first steps in understanding how dopamine and other neurotransmitters work in the brain that they are part of chemical systems that act like electrical circuits to send and receive signals."
Throughout the symposium, speakers described how Brown had ignited similar sparks. Dr. Gerald Gebhart of the University of Iowa and Dr. Conan Kornetsky of Boston University School of Medicine recalled how Brown had encouraged their research into the mechanisms that transmit pain signals throughout the central nervous system and the effects in the brain of pain-killing and addictive drugs.
Dr. Frank Vocci, director of NIDA's Division of Treatment Research and Development, described the role of neuroscience in development of medications to treat drug addiction. "Without the basic neuroscience foundation that Roger helped develop, these treatments just wouldn't be possible," Vocci said. "And listening to the rest of the speakers makes me even more impressed by the incredible contribution Roger made. I'm glad to have known him, to have worked with him, and to be here to say what none of us ever said often enough: Thanks, Roger."
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