The challenges and opportunities of neuroscience will come into focus Sunday and Monday as researchers from universities across Virginia and special guests from elsewhere in the U.S. converge at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute for the annual symposium of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society of Neuroscience (CVCSN).

Three nationally known neuroscientists will visit the VTCRI from other states and present their discoveries in three critical areas of research — Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury.

In addition, researchers from throughout Virginia will present their latest findings, according to Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, president of CVCSN and lead organizer of this year’s gathering.

“We are providing a window into some of the fascinating  neuroscience research areas in Virginia,” Valdez said. “Some of the brightest minds in Virginia come together each year for this symposium to exchange ideas and identify potential nexus for collaboration. The symposium is especially important for students, because it shows them what Virginia universities have to offer. It also allows students at all levels to hone their presentation skills and interact with scientists they normally would not have had the opportunity to meet.”

Valdez said undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and neuroscientists at all educational stages will have opportunities to communicate, share ideas, and learn about resources available at various institutions in the state of Virginia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, students and faculty can learn more about the VTCRI and its brain research programs, the School of Neuroscience, and the greater neuroscience community on the main campus of Virginia Tech. 

“It is important to bring scientists from different institutions to learn about our research and identify fruitful avenues of collaboration with scientists at locations in our home state,” Valdez said.

Visiting scientists this year are particularly known for their contributions to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury research. Guest speakers include:

  • Kenneth Kosik, the Harriman Professor of Neuroscience at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who produced the original data on the largest family in the world with a genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease in Antioquia, Colombia.
  • Malú G. Tansey, an associate professor of physiology at Emory University, who studies genes and mechanisms underlying the progression of Parkinson’s disease with a focus on developing new therapies.
  • John Bethea, a professor of biology at Drexel University, who focuses on acute spinal cord injury, studying the inflammatory response after injury, regulators that control neuro-inflammation, and factors involved in regenerating healthy tissue.

“We think it is important to hear from researchers who are on the interface of basic and translational neuroscience,” Valdez said. “Neuroscientists at all levels are hungry to learn how to link basic science discoveries to new therapies and diagnostics.”

Talks will also center around undergraduate training opportunities, graduate programs, and fellowships.

“CVCSN brings together the state of Virginia's premier neuroscience research community and offers a unique educational opportunity for those eager to advance their understanding of the complex nature of neurodegenerative diseases,” said Michelle Theus, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical sciences in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We're excited this year to offer several student workshops which will allow investigators to engage and inspire the next generation of basic and translational neuroscientists,” said Theus, who played a leading role organizing this year’s meeting, which is expected to have statewide impact.

“Companies and university faculty who consider locating in Virginia need access to a skilled work force and knowledgeable, accomplished collaborators,” said Michael J. Friedlander, the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech.

“The CVCSN symposium is important because it provides professional development and career opportunities for neuroscientists from not only here in Roanoke but from across the Commonwealth,” Friedlander said. “It is appropriate to host the symposium here in Roanoke because of the VTCRI’s major focus and strengths in neuroscience collaborations with other Virginia universities in the discipline. Together we are working to enhance the state as a neuroscience destination. This is an exciting event for our community. Dr. Valdez has done a wonderful job, working together with his colleagues from the VTCRI and across the state to put together an outstanding program.”

Speakers from state universities include Rory McQuiston, an associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology from Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center; Linda Boland, an associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond; Michael Fox, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute; Michael McConnell, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; Michelle Olsen, an associate professor in the school of neuroscience at Virginia Tech; Scott Zeitlin, an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; and William Buchser, a visiting assistant professor at the College of William and Mary.

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