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Neuroscientist speaks about new viral treatment for diseases, kicks off inauguration of new URI pro

By Kimberly DeLande
On December 6, 2011

  • President of Ecole Polytechnique Patrick Aebischer spoke yesterday at the University Club about neurodegenerative diseases. Teresa Kelly


Patrick Aebischer, renowned neuroscientist, spoke about the use of viral vectors to treat neurodegenerative diseases at University Club, to kick off the inauguration of the University of Rhode Island's new neuroscience program.

After two years of gathering faculty members to teach the course, writing proposal, and mapping out the course requirements for the program, URI's neuroscience program is ready to accept applicants. The program focuses on the study of the brain and the nervous system and will implement the involvement of different colleges in order to gain perspective on their research. The program is interdisciplinary and spans across a multitude of colleges, including pharmacy, human science and services, computer science, chemistry and psychology.

"We cannot hope to accomplish great things without working together," said Nasser Zawia, dean of the graduate school and director of the interdisciplinary neuroscience program said. "By making the neuroscience program interdisciplinary, it assures that its students are not barred into one strict area of study."

Considering that mental health affects one out of three people, which places neuroscience as an extremely important science in today's world. According to Zawia, URI cannot afford to stand back and not become a key player in neuroscience. While URI did have a strong background in neuroscience before the program was implemented, the existence of the program will only strengthen its position in the field.

"We've already made a mark in this field," President  of URI Dooley said. "This program will only help URI gain stature, and will help us solve the grand problems we all face as globally, as one humanity."

Although the program is new, a student, Kyle Scully, in the program attended the inauguration to give his regards to the faculty involved in the creation of the program. Scully, a Ph.D student in neuroscience, is one of the first students to enroll, and, said he is honored to be part of the program.

"We have a mountain of opportunities standing before us," Scully said. "Those involved in the creation of this program were met with a daunting task— but they didn't shy away. I'm honored to be able to work with such a diverse and knowledgeable faculty."

Aebischer's presentation served as the focal point of the inauguration. Aebischer, who is internationally recognized for his research on gene therapy for neurodegenerative diseases, focused his presented research focused on the idea of using viral vectors, or viruses, as a tool in diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The viruses would act as a tool to carry medicines to the brain, instead of injecting them directly. Viruses, he said, would be a less invasive way to cure patients in the future, as opposed to surgery and other extreme methods.

However, Aebischer stated that the best way to eliminate diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's is for neuroscientists to work on preventing them from existing in the first place. In five to 10 years in the future, he said, scientists will be able to read the genomes of people, and will be able to tell whether or not such diseases will occur in their lifetime. While this process can be done today, it is very expensive to do so. However, this process will be affordable and available to the public in the future.

"I don't believe in personalized medicine," Aebischer said. "I believe in personalized prevention."

Aebischer concluded the presentation by reminding the audience that neuroscience is a collaborative effort that should be made amongst all people across the disciplines. He echoed Zawia's thoughts, and spoke of how true progress could only be made once scientists of all shapes and sizes began working together.

"We need to bring all of our academic efforts across the board together," Aebischer said. "We cannot do this alone."

URI's neuroscience program is currently accepting applications. Classes for the program are scheduled to begin in spring semester.

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