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$6.5 Million Grant Allows Neuroscientists to Focus on Movement

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

            A group of neuroscientists from the University of Rochester has received $6.5 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to study how different parts of the brain work together to allow us to move.

            Marc Schieber, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neurology and of Neurobiology & Anatomy, is leading the project, which will focus on how our brain coordinates movements of the eyes, head, arms, and hands. Also taking part in the project are Edward Freedman, Ph.D., and Greg Gdowski, Ph.D., of Neurobiology and Anatomy; Daeyeol Lee, Ph.D., of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and Jonathan Mink, M.D., chief of Pediatric Neurology. The group is part of a broad team of neuroscientists that spans several departments both at the University’s River Campus and at the Medical Center.

            The group is studying how different parts of the brain work together to allow us to move our eyes, head, arms and hands. Unfortunately for scientists, the brain does not simply divvy up the work so that one section of the brain is responsible for moving the eyes, another section moves the legs, and so on. Instead, the brain is wired so that many sections and structures work together to help us carry out even the most mundane task. A child’s ability to simply pick up a cup of water and take a sip is the product of billions of electrical and chemical signals all firing crisply in unison, with the brain somehow coordinating input from the child’s eyes and fingers, as well as input based on his experience – the feel of the cup, the taste of water, and so on. Unraveling how the brain coordinates the flood of information and allows us to complete such tasks without even “thinking” is among the group’s goals.

            In addition to telling us more about how the brain works when we’re healthy, the research should help physicians better understand and treat people who have difficulty moving because of Parkinson’s disease, stroke, head injuries, or other conditions.

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