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New institute aims to study brain, behavior

After more than a year of planning, Duke launched its new Institute for Brain, Mind, Genes and Behavior last month-a center for interdisciplinary research that explores the science of human behavior.

The institute will bring together scientists in a variety of disciplines such as neuroscience, medicine, genetics, psychology and even public policy in projects that are connected to "real-world problems," said Sanders Williams, dean of the School of Medicine.

University officials said the institute aims to influence government policies in the areas of drug use, violence, detrimental behaviors as well as in broader disciplines such as law, ethics and religion.

"The general idea is to bring people together across different schools in the University so that things don't happen in isolation but in collaboration," said Dr. Dale Purves, one of the three interim co-directors of the institute.

"We're not replacing anything, we're not competing with anything-we're just adding an encouraging umbrella," he added.

The institute's researchers will primarily draw on the resources of Duke's other centers such as the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, the Social Science Research Institute, the Center for Neuroengineering and the Brain Tumor Center.

"[The institute] was created in order to take advantage of the research Duke already had around campus," said interim co-director Timothy Strauman. "What we didn't have was a way to coordinate those different research efforts."

Unlike some of the other centers, however, the new institute will focus on more than just research.

"An important part of its mission will be to enhance educational opportunities in the neurosciences at Duke," said John Simon, vice provost for academic affairs. "Among various efforts, we plan to form a new undergraduate major in neuroscience and expand training opportunities for graduate students interested in working at the intersections between neuroscience and other disciplines."

The institute, which was born out of the University's strategic plan, is not housed in a particular building since most of the scientists that will work on its projects have their offices elsewhere on campus, Strauman said.

The institute has already announced its first call for proposals and projects and expects to fund up to two long-term projects early next year, interim co-director Dr. Ranga Krishnan said.

For now, however, the main project of the institute is for its three interim co-directors to find a permanent director, he added. The director will then make some permanent faculty hires.

"This is exactly the kind of thing Duke does as well or better than any university in the world," Strauman said. "We have terrific researchers working on how genetic processes influence a whole variety of things.... At the heart of it, we hope it contributes to Duke's other visions-if we can do all these things well, the institute will be a success."

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