Yale School of Medicine Helps Establish National Neuroscience Network

Pictured above: Luis Marenco, M.D., Perry Miller, M.D. and Gordon Shepherd, M.D.

Yale School of Medicine is participating in a new collaboration with the National Institutes of Health to establish a comprehensive web-based Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF).

The purpose of the NIF is to help guide neuroscience researchers to relevant information stored anywhere on the Internet. The NIF will be built by a consortium of universities including the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, George Mason University, University of California at San Diego and Yale.

Leading the Yale NIF activities will be Gordon Shepherd, M.D., professor of neurobiology, working closely with Luis Marenco, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology, and Perry Miller, M.D., professor of anesthesiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology. Their work will draw heavily on the resources of the Yale Center for Medical Informatics, under the leadership of Miller.

The field of neuroscience involves many research groups that are exploring the brain and its function at many different levels. Work is underway on genes and proteins, nerve cells (neurons) and their interactions with one another, the physiology and pharmacology of the brain and microimaging of brain cells. There are also imaging studies of the brain in normal individuals and in patients with neurological disease, as well as cognitive and psychological studies. The ultimate goals are coordinating all of this information to understand how the brain functions at each level, how all the functions interact to provide the neural basis of behavior, how diseases affect behavior, and how to treat neurological diseases, such as spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, to restore normal function.

Many sources of relevant information are increasingly available via the Internet. “To use this information effectively, neuroscientists need to be able to locate the latest research results that are relevant to the particular behavior they are studying or neurological disease they are treating,” Shepherd said. “Databases thus make maximally efficient use of the data produced by the investment of the National Institutes of Health in research to improve health.”

To create the NIF, the consortium will identify a wide spectrum of Internet information, software tools, and other resources. They will develop controlled vocabularies (called “ontologies” in current informatics jargon) for describing the various resources, and place this information into a Web-accessible database so that it can be searched in a flexible fashion.

Among the assets Yale brings to the consortium is a website with a suite of seven databases for supporting research on the sense of smell and on neurons with microcircuits in the brain. This is one of the most heavily visited sites on the web for the support of brain research, with over six million hits during the past two years. The Yale group was also instrumental in developing a database of neuroscience databases for the national Human Brain Project, and currently is involved in developing the Neuroscience Database Gateway for the Society for Neuroscience. The NIF will build in part upon this work.

Total NIH funding for the NIF is $500,000 for the first 15 months and $1 million for the next year. The Yale component is $125,000 and $250,000. These are expected to be seed projects toward funding of a comprehensive system for brain databases in the future.

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