Neurological disorders strike at the core of our identity. As a group, they are shockingly prevalent. It is estimated that one billion people around the world suffer from some form of neurological disease.
Less than a generation ago, there was little hope for treating most of these disorders. But with advances in neuroscience research, we are beginning to better understand the brain's resilience and its capacity for renewal. We are acquiring new tools to illuminate neurological function and dysfunction, and more scientists and clinicians are studying these disorders than ever before. In short, we are on the cusp of a new era in biomedicine.
To meet this moment of opportunity, Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine opened the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (Duncan NRI) in 2010. Building on our considerable strengths in genetics, neuroscience and pediatrics, the Duncan NRI is designed to foster a multidisciplinary, collaborative environment that will facilitate fundamental discoveries in neuroscience with the ultimate goal of translating them to therapies for many incurable neurological and neurodegenerative conditions.
Currently, the Duncan NRI is home to more than 35 Principal Investigators and 300 scientists and 10 Core labs, as well as the Gordon and Mary Cain Pediatric Neurology Research Foundation Laboratories, focused on epilepsy research and Baylor College's Center for Drug Discovery.
Since inception, more than 1175 scientific studies have been published, more than 85 disease-causing genetic mutations have been discovered or co-discovered by our scientists that have resulted in 6 promising clinical trials. Our faculty have long been at the forefront of understanding numerous neurological and developmental disorders. We discovered or co-discovered the genetic basis of Rett Syndrome, Fragile X (A and E) syndromes, Angelman syndrome, myotonic dystrophy, Goltz syndrome, incontinentia pigmenti, several inherited ataxias, several inherited neuropathies, and conducted landmark studies on numerous other neurological and neuropsychiatric syndromes. We have created animal models and other research reagents for many of these disorders that help researchers all over the world, and we are already using some of them to develop therapeutic interventions.
A few unique features of the Duncan NRI that make such rapid progress in basic and translational research possible are:
1) Our World-class Faculty
Our faculty include three Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers, eminent neurobiologists like Drs. Huda Zoghbi, John Swann, Hugo Bellen and Jeffrey McGee and physician-scientists like Drs. Joshua Shulman, Sameer Sheth, Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, Michael Wangler, Hsiao Tuan Chao, and Jimmy Holder who can effortlessly bridge the gap between basic research and clinical care. Our faculty have broad expertise ranging from basic neurobiology to computational biology that allows us to tackle really complex biological problems.
2) Our World-Class Facilities
The 344,000 square foot silver-level LEED-certified Duncan NRI building, nestled in the heart of the TMC, houses Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital researchers working on neurodevelopment and neurological diseases under one roof and provides space for us to recruit investigators with complementary areas of expertise.
3) Multidisciplinary Collaborations
The Texas Medical Center (TMC) - where Duncan NRI is located - is the largest medical center in the world, with several premier academic research centers and hospitals that together treat about 6 million patients each year. The Duncan NRI is also physically close to Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Hospital, Methodist Hospital, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the University of Texas. Our location within TMC and the collaborative environment allows our researchers to easily establish collaborations not only with each other but also with researchers in neighboring institutions, which continues to greatly advance our research. Most importantly, Duncan NRI's location adjacent to the hospitals fosters relationships between the lab and the clinic, which are integral to the translational research enterprise.
Moreover, Duncan NRI-sponsored seminars, conferences, and networking events such as the Cain Labs dinner seminar series bring together faculty from various institutions and disciplines who might otherwise never encounter each other, allowing them to discover common interests and form a dynamic intellectual network in which ongoing conversations serve as a catalyst for creativity and insights to solve neurological diseases.
4) Robust Research Support
At a time when many institutions are reducing their investment in basic research infrastructure, the Duncan NRI supports our researchers and others by providing Core lab services that specifically support translational neuroscience research. These Core labs provide expertise generating engineered mice, RNA in situ, neuropathology, slice and in vivo neurophysiology, neuroimaging, animal EEG, mouse behavior, bioinformatics, microscopy (confocal, two-photon and electron), and pharmacology/drug trial design to all Duncan NRI labs and others.
Moreover, our researchers who are Texas Children’s/Baylor College faculty, are supported by federal institutes such as the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, several disease foundations and generous philanthropic donors.