Zoghbi director of new collaborative Neurological Research Institute

January 1, 2011

Dr. Huda Zoghbi
Dr. Huda Zoghbi

Dr. Huda Zoghbi, Baylor College of Medicine professor of molecular and human genetics, pediatrics, neurology, and neuroscience, has worked collaboratively throughout her career with much success. Now she will bring that experience to bear as director of the new Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (NRI).

A facility of Texas Children's Hospital, the NRI is the first basic research institute for childhood neurological diseases. Joining Zoghbi are 15 BCM investigators and their research colleagues, who work in areas such as genetics, neurobiology, physics, mathematics, bioinformatics and behavioral psychology.

Neurological diseases

Because many childhood neurological disorders share common symptoms and characteristics, NRI investigators will work across a spectrum of diseases including autism, epilepsy, Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy, ataxias and Batten disease.

"By design, the NRI's goal is to transform pediatric neurological disease research by bringing diverse expertise together, supporting it with a strong infrastructure of core facilities, and creating an efficient research environment to increase our understanding of the disease process to set the stage for the development of therapies," said Zoghbi, who is one of the world's leading neurogeneticists as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Zoghbi noted that new scientific insights into the health of the developing brain will lead to greater understanding of the aging brain. For this reason, many NRI studies may also impact disorders such as ALS, Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease.

Collaborative design

Researchers at the 13-floor research tower hope to increase the pace of discoveries by pioneering a multidisciplinary approach to the complex challenge of understanding brain development and function. They will work in specially designed "collaboratories" — open labs that facilitate the free exchange of ideas, information and resources. In addition, scientists will be rewarded for shared expertise and accomplishments as well as individual achievement.

"The guiding principle of the NRI is collaboration at every level – interdisciplinary, interdepartmental and inter-institutional," Zoghbi said.

According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people worldwide, including 300 million children, suffer from some form of neurological disease. While neurological diseases are more common than cancer and heart disease combined, the field has received fewer research dollars than either.