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URMC / Department of Neuroscience / About Us / Chair's Introduction


Chair's Introduction

Photo of John Foxe

John J. Foxe
Chair & Kilian J. and Caroline F. Schmitt Professor

The Department of Neuroscience remains true to its historical roots as a full-service enterprise with strong mission commitments in research, education, and institutional and extramural service, with a slice of clinical activity as well. We combine ongoing enthusiasm and innovation in each of these core missions with a collegiate and congenial ecology that ensures an engaging future. Renewed and novel research and teaching partnerships within Neuroscience and with other departments and centers promises to yield synergy across the neuroscience community in areas of common interest. Further, services to the Medical Center, the University, and national-international organizations entail numerous leadership and contributory roles by our faculty.


Research on the structure and function of the nervous system remains the Department's major mission. Several areas of emphasis characterize the Department's research base:

  • Cell Signaling & Communications
  • Learning, Memory, & Adaptive Plasticity
  • Neurobiology of Disease
  • Neurodevelopment & Aging
  • Sensory, Motor, & Integrative Systems Neuroscience

In addition, the faculty have developed a set of active multi-disciplinary focus groups including those in:

  • Motor Physiology
  • Multi-Sensory Integration
  • Neuro-Engineering
  • Cortical Circuitry
  • Neuro-Inflammation

Many participate in similar groups with homes in other departments around URMC and the College (e.g. development and stem cell research).

The current international economic recession presents challenges to all, and yet research enterprises continue, novel collaborations and creative new projects develop and flourish, while broadly-based research support structures, core-centers, and training programs have witnessed successful renewals.

Strategic targets for advancement are in progress, and will nicely augment and extend existing strengths and ongoing initiatives. One partnership continues between Neuroscience and Otolaryngology, exploiting a natural synergy in the special senses of the inner ear and their interactions with other neural systems that guide behavior in everyday life. This initiative began the recruitment of Chris Holt (pharmaco-physiology of excitable membranes in afferent/efferent interactions of the inner ear), and Ben Crane (otology/neuro-otology, both clinical and basic research), followed by Patricia White (regenerative sensory neurobiology of he inner ear) who brings a new research program that includes stem/progenitor and molecular approaches to understanding natural development as well as interventional strategies to restore lost function.

Another strategic partnership is that between Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering (BME). This initiative is founded upon a group of co-appointed faculty, all engineers by training and neuroscientists by research interests. Priorities for future growth focus on neurophysiological imaging and interventional neuro-engineering. Other research initiatives developed by our faculty include neuro-inflammation, cell signaling, cortical function and others that reflect the breadth of the Department. Many of our research programs entail strong collaborations with faculty from other departments, many of whom hold joint appointments in NSC. The result is a proactive set of research programs, supported by a set of departmental and institutional research cores that help forge an enduring and vital intellectual community.


A strong commitment to education remains a hallmark of the Department, stemming from the very inception of our medical school in 1925. Medical education is one area in which our faculty play major and essential roles. Our engagement in years 1-2 of the Double-Helix Curriculum focuses on two major courses: Human Structure and Function (a composite of gross anatomy, histology, embryology, and physiology; co-directed by Barbara Davis) and Mind/Brain/Behavior (a mix of fundamental and clinical neuroscience; Co-Directed by Kerry O'Banion). Our faculty also lead efforts in 3rd and 4th year courses (Diane Piekut), while participating in a variety of other offerings. In addition, the Medical School's overall mission receives considerable leadership support by our faculty, including John Hansen who deftly leads the Admissions office, and others who participate in design and governance committees.

An interesting program is the Academic Honors Program in Medical Neurobiology, which adds a fifth year of study, research and teaching experience to the medical curriculum, culminating in a M.S. Degree conferred along with the M.D. degree upon graduation. Many students have received full support for the year from the NIH-supported Clinical Translational Science Institute. Several students have chosen to convert into the M.D.-Ph.D. program. This remarkable record illustrates the catalytic and career-changing potential for this vital program. 

Neuroscience faculty also participate extensively in graduate education. The Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP: Ania Majewska, Director; John Olschowka, Associate Director) contains two degree pathways, including our departmental degree in Medical Neurobiology, particularly well-suited to both M.D./Ph.D. and Ph.D. candidates interested in the function and dysfunction of the nervous system. Training builds upon a broad foundation in basic neuroscience (core curriculum) and then extends into the medical school curriculum to include human and clinical neurobiology. This is combined with strong research training in basic and translational disciplines as students enter their laboratory years. The outcome prepares students particularly well for academic careers within medical school departments like our own, where independent research is combined with medical and graduate teaching. Our faculty participate heavily in the NGP in general, as well as in other training programs, both graduate and undergraduate--the latter in cooperation with the Departments of Biomedical Engineering (BME) and Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS).


Service to the University and the Medical Center continues its high profile of commitment. Neuroscience faculty members hold leadership and participatory roles in cross-campus Centers and undergraduate programs of the College. Suzanne Stevens continues to lead the University Committee on Animal Research (UCAR) toward an improved and modernized operation. Kerry O'Banion directs a flourishing M.D.-Ph.D. Program that continues to attract stellar students to our institution, funded by the NIH's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). Barbara Davis directs a new faculty development program in medical education, among numerous other leadership roles. Diane Piekut directs the Anatomical Gift Program—an essential service element of any medical school. This has catalyzed additional efforts toward the development and expansion of advanced anatomical education at our institution, including programs for clinical residency training within surgical specialties, continuing medical education programs for faculty, and advanced studies for senior medical students. Other faculty contribute to major institutional committees in both research and education. Local departmental services continue to evolve, including an outstanding IT and web team as well as several departmental research cores:

  • Imaging and Histology
  • Mechanical and Electronic Shop
  • Neural Culture
  • Technology Development
  • Human Subjects


The Department's outlook continues to benefit from, and be guided by, its strong internal sense of community as well as its interactions with other departments and centers at the University. I continue to be enthusiastic about the future of neuroscience at Rochester, and with the steady and tangible contributions made by the Department. The compact and cooperative nature of our Medical Center and its location adjacent to the College campus comprises a rare attribute that we continue to exploit. We pride ourselves on our numerous interactive structures that bind neuroscientists across campus. This principle is clearly embodied in the Schmitt Program on Integrative Neuroscience, now celebrating its thirteenth year of operation, linking major neuroscience structures in support of interdisciplinary research, research technology development, training opportunities at several levels (undergraduate, graduate, and medical students as well as post-doctoral fellows), visiting professorships, and thematic symposia. In sum, Neuroscience continues to enjoy a broad and outstanding intellectual and cultural dynamic. It is my honor as Chair to have helped nurture and promote this process, but it is the faculty, students, and staff that provide the talent and initiative that ensures our success and our future.