A Message from the Director

Chris Evans Portrait

Dear Friends and Colleagues, 

2015 was a year during which the breadth and reach of our membership grew with faculty from the departments of Public Health and Bioengineering and Biostatistics, as well as up-and-coming talents such as Elaine Hsiao who studies microbial cells and Hakwan Lau who elucidates the psychophysics of visual perception.

At the same time, our researchers continued to make significant breakthroughs in basic and clinical neuroscience. Lara Ray’s recent study confirmed that Naltrexone, a drug helped into clinical practice here by Walter Ling, lessens the drug cravings of methamphetamine addicts. This work continues the long history of the preeminence of UCLA addiction researchers. 

However, with Walter’s Ling’s retirement and several other departures from the ISAP, we have lost key figures in the addiction research community. I hope that the recent establishment of the BRI's Integrative Center for Addictive Disorders will attract new scientific talent to UCLA, and develop even closer collaborations between neuroscientists and clinicians across campus. 

We are also on the cusp of a groundbreaking study that will address the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge. Carrie Bearden’s screening of over 2000 patients in the UCLA Medical System will generate data on the life cycle of depression to the extent that I do not believe has been previously captured. Carrie’s work is supported by the BRI's Joanne and George Miller and Family Chair endowment, which recognizes outstanding researchers in the field of depression.

Since addiction and depression are often co-morbid, the potential impact of Carrie’s research on addiction science and for her study design to be duplicated in the field of addiction are exciting to the neuroscience community here. 

I’m also pleased to announce the formation of Project Synapse, an outreach and professional development group for postdoctoral students. The program is the brainchild of Nanthia Suthana who has risen through the ranks here, first a graduate student and now as a faculty member. Monthly workshops will give postdocs skills that are often overlooked, such as how to write an effective CV and grantsmanship. The program is also training postdocs in outreach education with the hope that this will instill a career-spanning commitment, demonstrated over the years by Nanthia herself, to bringing neuroscience to middle and high school students who may not have access to strong science education resources. 

In the coming months, the BRI website will also provide a series of educational resources for middle and high school teachers and students, in the form of lesson plans, videos, pamphlets and powerpoints. We eventually hope to create a strong reference base for teachers everywhere, even if it’s not always possible for BRI outreach organizations to accomplish school visits. 

Though our membership, research and outreach endeavors continue to grow, our rankings in terms of NIH awards from its institutes that fund neuroscience research have slipped in some areas. For instance, our rank for NIDA funding has dropped from 3 in 2012 to 6 in 2015 with an approximately $6 million drop in revenue, and for NINDS NIH funding from 6th to 10th over the same period with a disturbing $13 million drop in revenue. On the bright side, for NIMH funding we ranked 2nd in the country in 2015, up from 3rd in 2012, and there was a huge jump in ranking for funding from NICHD for developmental research where our ranking increased from 17th in 2012 to 6th in 2015 with a gain of about $7 million. 

Taken as a whole, despite the continued challenging environment UCLA continues to do well in competing for NIH funding. As always, this funding is considerably augmented by private donations of all sizes. These gifts facilitate the expansion of the research, education and outreach infrastructure that allows the BRI to effectively support the crucial scientific breakthroughs that lead to increased understanding of the brain in health and disease, and new treatments for some of the greatest threats to human health worldwide.

I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in 2016.

All best,

Dr. Christopher Evans
Director, Brain Research Institute