BHI Mission Statement

The goal of the Brain Health Institute (BHI) is to develop neuroscience at Rutgers to become a highly translational and internationally preeminent research enterprise. New tools are transforming neuroscience, and these afford an unprecedented opportunity to create new treatments for central nervous system disorders. Neuroscience has been identified by Rutgers University as one of five signature areas for future focus and development. As part of this strategic plan, the BHI was established to become an internationally recognized center for basic, translational, and clinical research into the biological bases of human brain function and dysfunction. The BHI is the home for the overall Rutgers neuroscience initiative, and is a growing interdisciplinary institute consisting of more than 250 principal investigators with neuroscience laboratories across various campuses of Rutgers University and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. By supporting and coordinating neuroscience across all campuses, the BHI will unite Rutgers University’s dynamic and diverse neuroscience community toward common goals:

  1. To create research programs focused on the biological underpinnings of the central nervous system’s function and dysfunction.
  2. To develop treatments for these disorders using novel neuroscience tools.
  3. To establish a rich neuroscience resource in New Jersey that educates the public, clinicians, faculty, and students, as well as state, national, and international health officials.

BHI Strategic Plan

Initial focus for development of neuroscience via the BHI at Rutgers will be on four areas and associated disorders: neurodevelopment (autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia), neurodegeneration and injury (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord and traumatic brain injury), cognitive and sensory neuroscience (aging and Alzheimer’s disease), and motivational and affective neuroscience (addiction, obesity, depression, anxiety). The selection of the focus areas was based on an analysis of strengths at Rutgers currently, as well as the recognition of prevalent nervous system disorders with a large need for novel treatments. A major goal will be to identify potential teams within these areas of focus, where targeted recruitments would have a significant impact on multi-investigator translational research. The program will be led by the BHI director, Dr. Gary Aston-Jones.

     A further area of focus for the Brain Health Institute will be to utilize new techniques in basic neuroscience to develop novel therapies for brain and spinal disorders. Over the past 7 years, developments in viral vector neurotransduction, optogenetics, and chemicogenetics (designer receptors), among other areas, are revolutionizing neuroscience. These new methods have proven effective in altering brain function and dysfunction in highly specific ways in animal models, indicating that such methods may lead to a new generation of neurotherapeutics. Indeed, viral vectors are already being used in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases by expressing growth factors to halt degeneration of neurons in the basal forebrain and midbrain. Similar viral vectors can be used to express opsins or designer receptors in a cell type-specific manner to allow control of selective populations of brain or spinal neurons with unprecedented specificity. This will allow new therapies, based upon knowledge from basic neuroscience research, with many fewer side effects compared to almost any current treatment. Rutgers can take the lead in the development of such new therapeutics.

By studying different disorders in parallel, we can identify commonalities for the underpinnings of disease. Moreover, the new neuroscience techniques that will be used as the basis for novel neurotherapeutics will be applicable across all of these and other neural disorders. The goal is to identify the genetic, environmental, and other aspects related to neuropathology and repair so that effective strategies can be developed for prevention and treatment..