Q&A with MBI Director, Dr. Jennifer Bizon

Jen Bizon standing in front of the brain institute building
Dr. Jennifer Bizon, director of the McKnight Brain Institute

What drew you to the MBI’s mission?

The MBI’s mission — to advance our fundamental understanding of the nervous system and revolutionize the treatment of neurological disorders — reflects something that is special about our community. Specifically, UF has exceptional strength in both foundational discovery and clinical translational realms. These strengths are bolstered by an unparalleled collaborative spirit among both researchers and clinicians. Looking across the landscape of neuroscience and neuromedicine research at UF, we have individuals who are at the forefront of their field in areas such as neurodegenerative and neurovascular diseases, neural control of breathing, neuropsychiatric diseases, brain aging and cognition and chemosensory sciences, just to name a few. The tremendous diversity of science and expertise and the cooperative attitude of our community make the MBI a truly unique and exciting environment.


What excites you about this role?

It is such a privilege to work alongside so many talented researchers who are passionate about making the next big discovery and who take a collaborative approach to science. I am excited to work with all of our members to support our existing programs and to identify those areas that are ripe for new investment. This year is the 25th anniversary of the MBI, and it’s remarkable to think back to those things we didn’t know 25 years ago that are now taught in high school biology textbooks! I can’t wait to see what the next 25 will bring, particularly as we seem poised for the discovery of transformative treatments across several neurological disorders ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to brain cancer. It’s such an exciting time to be a scientist working in our field.


What are some of your goals for the MBI?

Given that the MBI is now 25 years old, our infrastructure will require investment to ensure it is as current and state-of-the-art as the work of our scientists. Updating the space and expanding core facilities will synergize with ongoing faculty recruitment efforts across numerous departments and research areas. We’re preparing to launch a strategic plan with the goal of engaging our entire community to offer input about the MBI’s future priorities.


Doctor Bizon doing research

Could you talk about the focus and goals of your research?

My research program broadly focuses on understanding brain aging and its implications for cognitive function. We are particularly interested in how disruptions in inhibitory signaling in the aged brain contribute to impairments in memory and executive function. In addition, we are using in vivo imaging and optogenetic approaches to understand how aging influences the neural circuits of decision-making. Our long-term goal is to identify circuit and cellular targets for improving cognitive health and quality of life in older adults.


What have been some of the most rewarding moments of your career so far?

Without question, the most rewarding moments of my career have been observing the success of my trainees. It’s incredibly rewarding to see former students and postdocs transition into independent scientists, grow their national reputations and build their own labs that tackle important research questions in innovative ways. I love reading the work coming out of their labs, and I can’t wait to see what they do next!


What brought you to UF?

I came to UF over 12 years ago to be part of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation-supported program on cognitive aging. I was drawn to the collaborative atmosphere at UF, and I’m so fortunate to have made the move to Gainesville! I’ve been able to build my research program in collaboration with some terrific investigators who are part of this program.


What are some fun facts about you?

I love spending time with family and traveling. I particularly love mountains and visiting national parks where I can practice photography. With my daughter graduating high school this year and my son already in college, we are now empty nesters! We are really looking forward to even more travel — with Iceland and Switzerland at the top of the list.