The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla will receive a 5-year grant totaling $4.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to establish a new research center focused on finding ways to treat congenital brain defects and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia.

The center will “speed discovery of how genetic changes alter abilities such as motor function, learning and memory,” said Salk Institute President William R. Brody.

The new Neuroscience Core Center is one of three brain research centers established nationally this year by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which is a unit of Bethesda, Md.-based NIH. The center will be led by Dennis O'Leary, the Vincent J. Coates Professor of Molecular Neurobiology at Salk, and it will provide research support in three areas that are particularly important for neuroscience: genome manipulation, imaging and behavioral studies, according to an Oct. 13 Salk statement.

O’Leary said that brain researchers are increasingly focused on the links between genes and behavior, exploring how genetics play a role in brain development, “which is ultimately manifested in a person's ability to function.”

More than half of Salk's 58-person faculty is engaged in neuroscience research. “The center will provide Salk scientists access to new research technologies and free them from having to reinvent the wheel for each new project,” O’Leary said. “This center will be an exponential boost to our ability to do cutting-edge research in neuroscience.”

— Kelly Quigley