The human brain, with its 85 billion neurons, may just be the most complex structure in the universe. Franck Polleux, who was recruited to join the faculty of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, has spent the last decade identifying cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying brain wiring.
“Many neurodevelopment disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, are diseases of connectivity,” he said. “Studying how the brain is wired during normal development has a profound impact on our understanding of socially devastating diseases of brain development.”
The Polleux lab is also interested in how neuronal connectivity is disrupted during brain aging. Recently, he and his colleagues shed light on one of the major toxic mechanisms in Alzheimer’s disease – the over-activation of a particular enzyme – a discovery that could one day lead to therapy and disease prevention.
Polleux is one of four neuroscientists who joined the Columbia faculty in 2013. He was attracted to the Zuckerman Institute for its interdisciplinary structure. “Everything we do in my lab is largely driven by technology—it’s crucial to have access to scientists in other disciplines such as bioengineering and chemistry,” he said. “The only way to foster such collaborations and multidisciplinary research in neuroscience is to put people in the same physical space.”
Mortimer B. Zuckerman shares the belief that the key to understanding critical human problems and diseases is to first uncover how exactly the brain works. By endowing the Institute in his name, Zuckerman has enabled Columbia to assemble a team of leading scientists from across disciplines who will further our knowledge of the mechanisms of the brain, the workings of the mind, and the complexities of human behavior.
“At its root, this is an investment in accomplished scholars whose collective mission is both greater understanding of the human condition and the discovery of new cures for human suffering,” said Zuckerman, co-founder of Boston Properties and owner and publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report, where he is also editor-in-chief.
Zuckerman’s $200 million gift – one of the largest in the University’s history – was largely inspired by Eric Kandel, a Nobel-laureate neuroscientist and one of the Institute’s directors, who hosted Zuckerman in his lab and discussed the potential impact of such a transformative commitment.
The Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute will be based in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, scheduled to open in 2016 on the new Manhattanville campus.
Published: March 2014