Neurosurgery Research at Brown University has an internationally-respected neuroscience research program, and neuroscience research specifically related to neurosurgery is robust and crosses many disciplines. For example, this research involves that of well-known scientists such as Leigh Hochberg, whose pioneering work on brain-machine interfaces routinely makes popular press headlines, and Christopher Moore who is applying new optogenetic methods toward the treatment of neurologic disease. On the cognitive science side, faculty such as Michael Frank study the role of dopamine in learning, and have applied this to understand cognitive deficits in Parkinson’s Disease in the setting of deep brain stimulation. In engineering, the laboratories of Arto Nurmikko and David Borton are working to fabricate new optical and wireless electrical devices to interface with the brain and to develop closed-loop stimulation systems. In addition to these few examples, many other neuroscience and cognitive science faculty have ongoing research programs directly related to neurosurgery and neurology.
Residents and faculty within the neurosurgery department undertake research at the Brown University main campus or in dedicated neurosurgery research facilities at Rhode Island Hospital. Among the former, one neurosurgery faculty member has just started a non-human primate neurophysiology laboratory within the main neuroscience research building (Sidney Frank Hall) at Brown. Residents in their PGY-5 year have been involved with cutting edge research, including at the Borton lab. One resident has recently worked with on-campus faculty to investigate the use of new MRI tools, developed at Brown, to understand traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, several neuroscience faculty are involved in active collaborations with the neurosurgery department, including for the use of micro-electrode arrays in epilepsy, intraoperative cognitive studies during deep brain stimulation, and pre-clinical studies to explore possible roles for optogenetic tools to treat neurological disease.
At the hospital itself, the Neurosurgery Research Laboratory Complex in the Aldrich Research Building includes three new laboratories extending over more than 4,000 square feet dedicated to cerebrospinal fluid and brain trauma / spinal cord injury research. Approximately one third of this space is devoted to the Molecular Biology Laboratories, which includes the capability to perform a wide array of molecular and microbiological techniques. Another third of the research space is comprised of facilities for cell culture and associated microscopy, and the remaining third of the space is dedicated to conducting pathophysiological experiments involving whole animal preparations (spinal injury, ischemia, trauma, etc.). Adjacent to the main laboratories are separate rooms for isotope counting, histology, dark-room photography and walk-in refrigeration.
Under the auspices of the Robert J. & Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, cross-disciplinary collaborations are flourish. For example, through these organizations, pilot grants are now provided to projects that specifically bridge the clinical and basic neurosciences. In addition, a monthly meeting routinely brings faculty from neurosurgery, neurology and psychiatry together with those from the basic neurosciences to discuss ongoing projects that leverage neurosurgical practice to understand basic brain function; six to twelve people are typically in attendance at these meetings, and the first human studies have already yielded valuable data. More broadly, Brown University has made neuroscience and neuroengineering institute-wide priorities, further raising visibility and attracting resources. Clearly, the combined strengths and resources of RIH and Brown University are creating fantastic synergies for exploring new frontiers within neuroscience and neurosurgery.