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Neuroscience professor Haydon’s endowment improves department

Published: Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Updated: Tuesday, October 28, 2008 07:10

Thanks to a $3 million gift from a Tufts trustee, a new endowed professorship is supplementing the School of Medicine's efforts to revamp its neuroscience department.

Trustee Annetta Grisard-Schrafl and her husband Gustav Grisard donated the money through Switzerland's Foundation for Research in Gastroenterology and Related Fields, according to medical school spokesperson Siobhan Gallagher.

The medical school has endowed Neuroscience Professor Philip Haydon's professorship with the donation and has opened a state-of-the-art research facility in an effort to emerge as one of the top neuroscience departments in the country, according to an article in Tufts Medicine, the medical school's magazine.

Haydon was recently promoted to chair of the Department of Neuroscience. He moved to Tufts from the University of Pennsylvania, where he began research that he will continue here on how glial cells communicate in the brain.

The article said that the neuroscience program at Tufts will be enhanced with multiple new tenure-track positions, which are another development in Haydon's plan to improve the neuroscience department at Tufts.

"Dr. Haydon wants to bring us up to the level of being absolutely the best. We've marshaled our resources," Medical School Dean Michael Rosenblatt said in the article.

Tufts also spent a separate $3 million turning an old shirt factory at 35 Kneeland Street in Boston into a high-tech laboratory for various medical fields, including neuroscience.

"Without the investment by the university, it would not have been possible to create state-of-the-art facilities to recruit the best scientists," Rosenblatt said in the article.

Haydon is accompanied in his move to Tufts by another internationally regarded neuroscientist, Professor Stephen Moss, who arrived in the spring with a team of 16 researchers.

"With the investments that are being made together with the recognized experts already in the department and more broadly at Tufts University, we are already making significant progress towards this important goal," Haydon told the Daily.

Neuroscience will play a more important and supportive role for other departments in the medical school as well.

"With my joining Tufts neuroscience, my goal is to work with my colleagues to develop critical areas of research that will allow us to move forward and develop internationally recognized strengths," Haydon said.

Traditional brain research has focused on neurons, according to Haydon. But he said glial cells, which constitute half of the cells in the brain and are electrically inactive, have been mostly overlooked in the study of neurological disorders, since they are mostly regarded as supportive cells

to neurons.

"We are studying how these glial cells influence sleep, learning and memory, and epilepsy," Haydon said.

New research suggests that glial cells control communication between neurons. These developments could lead to a broader understanding of many neurological diseases.

The neuroscience department's upcoming research will look at synapses, the role of glial cells in brain function, and the cellular mechanisms of brain dysfunction in neurological disorders and psychiatric states, Haydon said.

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