Becoming the Michigan Neuroscience Institute

Neuroscience is a young and exciting field that addresses one of the great challenges of modern science—understanding how the brain gives rise to ideas, emotions, perceptions, motivations, actions and consciousness. This knowledge is not only intrinsically fascinating but is key for treating and preventing brain disorders, which present a staggering burden on humankind.

The University of Michigan has a distinguished history in this field. The word "Neuroscience" was coined at Michigan by Dr. Ralph Gerard, the founding president of the Society for Neuroscience. Since then, the Michigan neuroscience community has made innumerable seminal contributions to the field. The depth and breadth of neuroscience research and training at Michigan can currently be found in seven different schools and colleges, 27 departments, and 15 institutes and centers. The Neuroscience Graduate Program has more than 150 faculty members, representing departments across the university's various schools and colleges. The distribution of our expertise is a great strength, but it also dilutes our cohesion and visibility.

How do we create new synergies, enable great discoveries and enhance the visibility and impact of Michigan Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is highly interdisciplinary and requires approaches ranging from molecular mechanisms to behavioral and social analyses. It demands state of the art technologies, novel tools, computational, and imaging power. Increasingly, it requires the disruption of barriers to collaboration among research groups and disciplines. The UM, comprised of top-tier schools and colleges that span all levels of human knowledge, represents a unique setting for a powerful, far-reaching and collaborative campus-wide neuroscience initiative.

In the Medical School, the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI; a physical entity with allocated space and existing primary faculty appointed in partnership with numerous departments across schools) had served for over 60 years as a key locus of neuroscience research on campus, producing distinguished national and international leaders as well as important contributions to neuroscience research. 

Significant opportunities recently accelerated efforts to invest in, coalesce, and unite the neuroscience community across the University. Having lead the Institute since 1995, Drs. Huda Akil and Stanley J. Watson, Jr. decided to step down as co-directors and expressed the hope that the search for their replacement could help to create a mechanism to catalyze increased collaboration among neuroscientists and neuroscience-related programs across campus. The University set out to identify new leadership that could develop a robust, cross-campus neuroscience institute. 

As a first step in this process, the Regents approved a name change from the Molecular and Behavioral Neurosciences Institute to the Michigan Neuroscience Institute (MNI) at their December 5, 2019 meeting with an effective date of January 1, 2020. Drs. Akil and Watson agreed to continue serving as the Institute co-Directors until new leadership was identified.