MBI celebrates 25th anniversary with illuminating symposium

By Michelle Koidin Jaffee

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute, the UF neuroscience and neuromedicine community came together Feb. 2 for a daylong symposium delving into the latest research advances and featuring a presentation by Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D., of UCSF for the ninth annual William G. Luttge Lectureship in Neuroscience.

Dr. May Khanna leads a morning session with Dr. Adam Gazzaley, who later delivered the ninth annual William G. Luttge Lectureship in Neuroscience, supported by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation.

The lectureship, established and sponsored by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, honors the memory of the late visionary neuroscientist William G. “Bill” Luttge, Ph.D., founding director of UF’s Brain Institute that became the McKnight Brain Institute.

To kickoff the symposium, MBI Director Jennifer Bizon, Ph.D., introduced a video about the institute’s history to more than 250 faculty members, trainees, staff and students in the packed DeWeese Auditorium and additional viewing rooms.

Center directors from across UF participated in a research blitz session reflecting on 25 years of progress in brain research. Pictured from left: Drs. Matt LaVoie, Michael Jaffee, Adam Woods, Carol Mathews, Sara Jo Nixon, Roger Fillingim, Gordon Mitchell, Jennifer Bizon, Laura Ranum, Brandon Zielinski and Sara Burke.

“I want to take just a few minutes to acknowledge our rich history, which includes significant contributions from many who are in our audience today,” Bizon said.

Among them was Luttge’s wife, Michaelyn, and J. Lee Dockery, M.D., chair emeritus of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, who oversaw a $15 million gift from the foundation in 2000 that led to the institute’s new name.

“Seeing 25 years later, all the wonderful things that are going on — the collaboration, the current leadership — we have great confidence,” said Dockery’s son Michael Dockery, M.D., chair of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation. “Thank you to Dr. Luttge, who this professorship was established for in 2012, the year that he passed. It’s an attempt to try to honor the legacy of what he has done for the University of Florida and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation.”

MBI 25 symposium vistas
A panel of rising faculty members participated in a discussion about the next 25 years of neuroscience and neuromedicine research. Pictured from left: Drs. Elias Sayour, Shellie-Anne Levy, Lakiesha Williams, Lori Knackstedt, Paola Giusti-Rodriguez, Eric Wang and Ramon Sun.

The day’s speakers included 11 directors of MBI research centers and a panel of rising faculty members who offered insights into gains of the past 25 years and next steps in the MBI’s research focus areas: acquired neural injury, neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive, behavioral and sensory disorders.

Gazzaley’s Luttge Lecture centered around his groundbreaking approaches to “experiential medicine” to optimize brain function. His lab has developed therapeutic video games aimed at improving attention and working memory in older adults, and his company’s EndeavorRx immersive video game is the first FDA-cleared digital treatment for ADHD in children.

“I would say we are now firmly entrenched in what I’m calling this new era of experiential medicine,” Gazzaley said. “We didn’t invent experiential medicine; it’s been around thousands of years: Mindfulness and meditation practices being a good example.

“But what we now have is accessible, convenient and inexpensive technological devices that deliver reproducible, targeted and personalized treatments that are convenient, inexpensive and adjustable — monitorable and adjustable out in the field. Really, our challenge now is to change those expectations and only time will show if we get there, if we can really distribute it, really give the benefits that we can hope to achieve.”

Click here to view the recorded livestream of the symposium.