On behalf of Drs. Todd Golde and Michael Okun:
As we usher in a new decade, we would like to reflect on the past decade of exciting achievements for UF’s neuroscience and neuromedicine research community and share our broad vision for the future of neuroscience and neuromedicine research at UF. In particular, we will elaborate on how our two institutes, the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute at UF and the new Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health, will work closely together to ensure that our investigators have the resources and infrastructure to build upon recent successes.
Since 2010, there has been an institutional focus on building translational programmatic research in the neurosciences (see an overview of our research areas). This strategy has helped us to recruit new investigators, enhance our training environment, increase the impact of our science, expand the infrastructure supporting our research and dramatically increase our grant-funding portfolio. Indeed, just looking at NIH funding to UF for neuroscience and neuromedicine across campus from 2010 to 2019 shows that it has doubled — from approximately $33 million per year in 2010 to over $66 million per year in 2019.
In July, we came together to launch the new Fixel Institute, including a 24,700-square-foot facility for patient care and patient-oriented research into neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, dystonia, Lewy Body dementia, ALS, concussions and other neurological conditions. The Fixel Institute houses the UF Health Neuromedicine – Williston Road practice, and it is guided by the philosophy that the patient is the sun around which all of our clinicians and researchers orbit. Together with the new UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital, which opened in 2017 and encompasses more than a half million square feet, these new facilities mean that the infrastructure that supports the care of our neuromedicine patients and clinical neuromedicine research is world class.
Importantly, the gift from the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation that supported the founding of the Fixel Institute (learn more about the gift) has also enabled us to hire four new faculty members into the departments of Neurology; Neuroscience; and Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine (learn more about these hires). Notably, the laboratories of these investigators are not in the Fixel Institute, but within the MBI and the Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease.
These hires illustrate precisely the type of united front between the institutes and our affiliated neuroscience departments and centers that we wish to foster going forward. We worked collectively to recruit these investigators to UF and identified fertile research environments that would facilitate their integration into our neuroscience and neuromedicine research community in a manner that would ensure their success. These synergistic efforts were key to the successful recruitments and in the future, we expect to recruit more neuroscientists at all levels. As we have done with recent hires, we will work closely with college and departmental leadership to find the best homes for these individuals and their laboratories.
Yes, the MBI and the Fixel Institute each has a physical building, but both function as institutes without walls, which will translate to us all working together on all things neuro. We share a common vision of a virtual “transparent umbrella” to protect and promote our neuroscience and neuromedicine research, and our goal is to encourage and support outstanding research partnerships among faculty members across colleges, departments, centers and programs. We facilitate shared grants across the two institutes, such as “moonshot” funds aimed at Parkinson’s and neuromuscular health as part of an exciting UF initiative to create the healthiest generation. Such grants will lead to more opportunities for all researchers in the neuro realm. Ultimately, we want to change the dialogue around neurological disorders from untreatable, incurable and inevitable to treatable, curable and preventable.
We are extremely grateful for the ongoing support of our research efforts by state funding to the MBI, the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program and the CTRND. Over the last several years, the MBI Executive Committee has helped guide the MBI state appropriations, and in the coming year we will expand this committee with a charge to create a “joint vision and strategic planning group for the neurosciences.” This group will be composed of leaders from our diverse scientific programs and will help institute leadership to steward our neuroscience and neuromedicine research and guide our strategic investments.
We cannot overstate the importance of our philanthropic partners in our pursuits. The McKnight Brain Research Foundation provided a transformative gift in 2000 that was key to establishing UF as a leader in brain research and continues to support investigators in UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory Clinical Translational Research, while last year’s influx of support from the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation helped fund the new institute’s building and enabled the recruitment of four distinguished neuroscientists in just a few short months. These are examples of how benefaction has supported our research efforts. These gifts have a lasting impact and remind us of the importance of shared vision with our donors large and small.
Philanthropic gifts have been and will continue to be vital to the success of our neuroscience and neuromedicine research, and we gratefully acknowledge our ongoing relationships and support from all our benefactors (see some of our philanthropic partners). Many of these gifts have been essential to launching new programmatic initiatives. These benefactors include the Lillian S. Wells Foundation, which supports our Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery and the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy; Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure; The Harris Rosen Foundation, which supports research into brain cancer; the B.J. and Eve Wilder Family Foundation, which supports research into epilepsy and dementia; the Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation, which supports research into leukemia and Lewy Body dementia; and the Facial Pain Research Foundation.
One of the major initiatives in our neuroscience and neuromedicine community has been to have our institutes and centers play a larger role in education and outreach activities (learn more about these opportunities). These efforts have been led by Drs. Jada Lewis, Jennifer Bizon and Gordon Mitchell, who will continue to guide our institutes’ integrated Education and Outreach Committee. Training and awards made under this initiative have been extremely well received by the community, and we expect established initiatives to continue and new initiatives to be launched over the coming years.
We could not do what we do without the support of our top-notch administrative teams. Staff members for both institutes do a fantastic job of coordinating much of the work that goes on behind the scenes, and they provide the foundation that will lift us to new heights. For administrative matters, Leilani Johnson serves as the contact for the Fixel Institute and Felecia Milton as the contact for the MBI.
Many of you have worked with our outstanding communications team — Todd Taylor, Michelle Jaffee and Jackie Hart. They are here to promote and publicize our neuroscience and neuromedicine research and, as they have in the recent past, will continue to work with all our neuroscientists in various centers and both institutes to increase the visibility of our work.
As with every successful and growing entity, there are some challenges with respect to infrastructure and growth, but we are not interested in taking our foot off the accelerator. Over the next few months, we will embark on developing a strategic plan for neuroscience and neuromedicine research that will help ensure our continued growth and success for the next decade. We will be reaching out to the neuroscience and neuromedicine community for input on this plan.
Everyone in the UF neuroscience and neuromedicine research community should be proud of our accomplishments. This has truly been a collaborative effort, and if we continue to focus on the “we” and not the “me,” our future will be bright.
Our Brains Helping Yours,
Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D.
Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida
Michael S. Okun, M.D.
Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health