Director's Message

The brain is the most fascinating and sophisticated organ in the human body. It governs all our interactions with the sensory world, controls our movements and emotions, and helps define us as individuals. Disorders of the nervous system are widespread and cause enormous suffering in patients, but we lack a mechanistic understanding of most neurological diseases and treatments are largely ineffective or entirely lacking. The goal of the neuroscience community is to understand how the brain and nervous system are built, how they function, and how neural circuits are maintained throughout life, and ultimately use that knowledge to alleviate patient suffering. This is a challenging task and will require significant effort from both the basic and clinical research enterprises—neither can be successful on its own. OHSU is cultivating strong growth in both basic and clinical neuroscience research and aims to use these combined strengths to lead in the development of treatments for patients with neurological disorders.

The mission of the Vollum Institute is to advance our mechanistic understanding of nervous system physiology and neurological disease through basic research. Under the leadership of outgoing Director Richard Goodman, Vollum faculty have made seminal discoveries over the past 2–3 decades in the area of synaptic function and dysfunction that have transformed the field and established the Vollum Institute as an elite center in experimental molecular neuroscience. The Vollum's approach—providing outstanding scientists with a close-knit, engaging and thriving intellectual environment for innovation and discovery—works. This is quite unusual in the biomedical research community and is becoming increasingly attractive to faculty that struggle to shed administrative and teaching responsibilities to focus on their true passion, their science. This unique Institute setting of the Vollum, coupled with its exceptional faculty, provides a superb environment for neuroscience discovery.

Looking toward the future the Vollum Institute will remain dedicated to the basic neuroscience research enterprise. Recent advances in the field have served to underscore how much more we have to learn about the many mysteries of the nervous system. We believe a mechanistic approach to understanding the brain remains absolutely essential—basic research helps us understand how the brain works at the molecular level and is the foundation on which translational research is understood and effectively implemented. We will vigorously reinvest in the Institute's mission through continued innovation and new faculty hires. A major current strength of the Vollum faculty is the remarkable group of researchers exploring synaptic biology through imaging, electrophysiology, and structural approaches. Further growth centered on synaptic biology represents one of many exciting future directions for the Vollum. New approaches to neural circuit studies and imaging are revolutionizing how neural activity can be manipulated and visualized in vivo. We will recruit current and future leaders using such next generation approaches to neural circuit function, and they will help transform the Vollum technologically and scientifically and they will thrive in its unique environment. At the same time we will seek to broaden the mission of the Vollum Institute to include a stronger emphasis on neurodevelopment and maintenance of neural circuit integrity. Devastating neurological disorders including schizophrenia and autism result from perturbed neurodevelopment, and breakdown of neural circuits through axon or synapse loss is a unifying feature of neurodegenerative disease. There is deep biology in these areas to be explored at the mechanistic level and discoveries in this area will relate directly to human disease.

Marc R. Freeman, Ph.D.
Director and Senior Scientist