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NINDS, NIMH Mark 50 Years of Neuroscience Research

By Shannon E. Garnett

On the Front Page...

To commemorate their 50th anniversaries, NINDS and NIMH will cosponsor a 2-day scientific symposium — Celebrating 50 Years of Brain Research: New Discoveries, New Hope — bringing together leading scientists and noted researchers whose work spans a diverse spectrum of basic, clinical and translational research on neurological and psychiatric disorders. The conference, which will be held on Oct. 9-10, in the Natcher auditorium, represents 50 years of advances in brain research and treatments for brain disorders.


Many of the profound gains in our knowledge of the brain and treatments for brain diseases over the past 50 years are due largely to research sponsored by NINDS and NIMH. This symposium will be a celebration of the remarkable progress that has been made in understanding the nervous system and the disorders that affect it, and serves not only as a fitting conclusion to the Decade of the Brain, but also as an appropriate beginning to the first decade of brain science in this century.

Top scientists from all over the country will gather to explore past accomplishments and current excitement in the field, and to discuss the potential for new findings and cures in the future. Topics range from processes such as synaptic transmission and brain plasticity to disorders such as epilepsy, stroke, prion diseases, and AIDS to functions such as memory, emotion and attention.

Dr. Paul Greengard (l) and Dr. Stanley Prusiner

Of special note is a distinguished panel featuring four Nobel laureates — Dr. Eric R. Kandel of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of California in San Francisco, Dr. Paul Greengard of the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at the Rockefeller University and Dr. Torsten Wiesel, president emeritus of the Rockefeller University. This group will speak on the second day of the symposium.

Dr. Torsten Wiesel (l) and Dr. Eric Kandel

The following day, Oct. 11, NINDS and NIMH will sponsor an educational program for members of Congress, their spouses and staff to discuss major accomplishments during the last half century, and the scientific opportunities they have made possible. A web site developed for the symposium — — includes a complete agenda and online registration forms. For more information call 1-866-50-BRAIN or email

A History of Subdivision

NINDS was created by Congress on Aug. 15, 1950, as the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness (the institute has been renamed several times before achieving its current name).

NINDS twice has been divided to form two additional NIH institutes, the National Eye Institute in 1968, and the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in 1988.

More than 600 disorders afflict the nervous system, striking an estimated 50 million Americans each year. Common disorders such as stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and autism are well-known. Others are rare. Throughout its history, NINDS has directed the course of research on many of these disorders by supporting and conducting a broad range of research on the healthy and diseased brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.

This extraordinary half-century has seen NINDS-supported scientists develop new diagnostic tools, therapies and models of disease that have significantly expanded our understanding of neurological disorders and translated into better treatments and methods of prevention.

NINDS will continue to explore new avenues in medical science — such as cell replacement and gene-transfer strategies, transgenic models of disease, surgical advances and the development of new therapeutic drugs, and xenotransplantation.

NIMH One of the 'Founding Four'

The National Institute of Mental Health — one of the first four NIH institutes — was formally established on Apr. 15, 1949. Its mission is to reduce the burden of mental illness through research on mind, brain and behavior. According to the landmark study, "Global Burden of Disease," commissioned by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, mental disorders represent four of the 10 leading causes of disability for persons age 5 and older. Among "developed" nations, including the U.S., major depression is the leading cause of disability.

Over the past half century, NIMH research has opened new windows of opportunity in our nation's effort to reduce the immense burden of mental and behavioral disorders. Sustained investments in basic brain and behavioral science have positioned NIMH to take advantage of a wealth of opportunities in neuroscience, molecular genetics, behavioral science and brain imaging. NIMH-funded scientists are making great strides in translating new knowledge about brain function into researchable clinical questions, and are initiating innovative clinical trials of new pharmacological and psychosocial interventions.

NIMH attaches high priority to research that is immediately relevant to public health, including the epidemiology of mental disorders, prevention and early intervention research, and studies designed to seek ways of improving the quality and accessibility of mental health services.

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