World’s Largest Collection of Brains by Matt McGann '00
The new Brain & Cognitive Sciences Complex opens tomorrow.
On Friday, MIT plans to dedicate what it bills as the largest collection of brain scientists under one roof in the world.
The new 411,000-square-foot building of limestone and glass, the largest research building on campus, stands on what must already be one of the brainiest corners in the world: at Vassar and Main streets in Cambridge. Its neighbors include the genetics powerhouse of the Broad Institute, the engineering might of the computer science department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the start-up energy of the 150 or so biotech companies in Kendall Square.
So close to one another and to such neighbors, researchers in the $175 million Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex say they will have the opportunity to collaborate in ways that promise progress on some of the thorniest problems of neuroscience, from the nature of consciousness to the origins of schizophrenia and autism.
They talk a little bit about neuroscience research:
Take autism, said Mriganka Sur, head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences: The disorder is complex, both in its genes and its symptoms. Genetically, it appears to depend on small effects from many genes, and such complex diseases are “the hardest ones to crack,” Sur said. But “we think we can crack them in this building, because of the expertise that exists.” […]
Among the ideas being explored in the building is a plan to try to combine brain-scanning with genetics to figure out the basics of mental illness, said [Prof. Robert] Desimone of the McGovern [Institute for Brain Research]. Currently, he said, psychiatric diagnoses are based on sets of symptoms rather than underlying biology, a messy way to define diseases. The hope, he said, is to find patterns in the brain scans of patients with, say, schizophrenia and then pinpoint the genes associated with those patterns.
They also talk a bit about MIT and neuroscience:
Brain science may not leap to mind when people think of MIT, but the school’s president, Susan Hockfield, is a neuroscientist, and the institute beat several other universities to win the $350 million gift that forms the basis of the McGovern Institute.
Historically, Hockfield said, MIT has churned out inventions such as radar because of the mingling of scientists and engineers. “And in many ways,” she said, “the new Brain and Cognitive Sciences building provides that same kind of cauldron of collaboration.” […]
Traditionally, Desimone said, brain-science centers have grown out of medical schools, where researchers could tap a ready pool of patients. But being in a hospital “doesn’t necessarily give you the technological edge that you need to really make progress.”
These days, he said, neuroscience is reaching the point where “finally, finally, we have the tools,” the brain scanners and sophisticated methods in molecular biology and genetics. So now, he said, it makes more sense to locate brain science in a “technology-centered place,” such as MIT, where those tools can best be developed.
Want to learn more about majoring in Brain & Cognitive Science (“Course 9”) at MIT? Browse on over to Mollie’s blog (a real live Course 9 student!). Also, check out some of the Brain & Cognitive Science classes on OpenCourseWare.