Academics & Faculty

UCLA to open new Staglin IMHRO Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

UCLA will open a new center in July to advance multidisciplinary research probing how the human mind works.
The Staglin IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization) Center for Cognitive Neuroscience brings together psychologists, psychiatrists, physicists, neurologists, mathematicians, linguists, electrical engineers and other scientists who study cognitive and emotional processes and how they affect our decision-making and mental health.
"We want to run the full gamut," said Tyrone D. Cannon, director of the center and UCLA's Staglin Family Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and Human Genetics. "We want to develop preventive and therapeutic approaches to reduce human suffering. We need to cut across the traditional boundaries to achieve that. UCLA is unique among most universities in being open to this kind of cross-disciplinary, collaborative research. The spirit of collaboration among the faculty is very high here."
The center, which includes state-of-the-science facilities for brain scanning, including a high-field MRI scanner, and electrophysiological laboratories for the study of electrical activity in the brain, is made possible thanks to a generous gift from the family of Garen K. and Sharalyn King Staglin. The Staglins are giving $4 million over 10 years through the Staglin Family Music Festival for Mental Health and their philanthropic organization, the International Mental Health Research Organization.
Cognitive neuroscience spans "how the brain supports the mind in every respect, from motor behavior to memory, language and complex decision-making, and the disorders of the brain," said Cannon, an expert on schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses and associate director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. "We want to help people when those systems of the brain have broken down. We are trying to understand how the structure of the brain relates to the mind in healthy people and all of the ways that the brain can go awry. Our new center is aimed right at that intersection."
"The Staglin IMHRO Center for Cognitive Neuroscience is an exciting addition to UCLA," said UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh. "It will advance scientific understanding, promote innovative teaching and host public programs that can inform the community about fascinating new developments in cognitive neuroscience. UCLA is on the cutting edge of the revolution in mental health, and this center will greatly enhance UCLA's strengths in this vital area. UCLA is extremely grateful to Garen and Shari Staglin and their family for not only their generosity but also their insights and valuable contributions in combating schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis."
Advances in brain-imaging techniques over the last 20 years have allowed neuroscientists to study the brain at work, while a person thinks, sees faces and other images, and makes judgments. Cannon says the new center's collaborative approach will enable researchers from widespread disciplines to work together to further expand knowledge of the human brain and mind.
"I hope over the next 10 years we increasingly recognize the limits of the traditional boundaries of knowledge," he said. "We have to be open to change and not get too comfortable. In order to profit the most from the advances occurring in molecular biology, brain imaging and genetics, we have to break those barriers down. When we do that, important, impactful results are likely to follow. I think that will occur with our understanding of schizophrenia and its genetic basis and other areas as well, such as bipolar disorder.
"This center will allow faculty to come together, think about problems together, design studies together and pursue funding together in a way that they otherwise would not. We are interested in teaching, research and the dissemination of knowledge. New knowledge often has the fastest pace where the boundaries between traditional fields of knowledge become blurry," he said.
The center will also host a speaker series, which will be open to the public, as well as conferences with internationally renowned neuroscientists.
Cannon said the Staglin family's support for the new center has been critical.
"One thing I have really enjoyed is learning about a business-world model," he said. "Shari and Garen come from that world. They use the term 'venture philanthropy,' and I really like that idea. Science is often not about taking many risks, at least not in relation to the government funding sources we typically pursue. There is a need, not just in cognitive neuroscience but more broadly, for higher-risk but higher-payoff venture capital. That is where the Staglins have really made a mark in the mental health field. They allow — indeed encourage — us to take more risks. We are able to pursue novel hypotheses, thanks to the Staglins."
The UCLA Division of Life Sciences, the Semel Institute and the UCLA Vice Chancellor for Research also have contributed funding to the new Staglin Center, as have Semel Institute donors.
The Staglins have contributed some $10 million to UCLA, including funding for the Staglin Family Music Festival Center and the endowed chair that Cannon holds.
Garen Staglin is a senior adviser with FT Ventures LP and past president and CEO of eOne Global LP, an e-commerce consulting firm. The Staglins own the acclaimed Staglin Family Vineyard in Napa Valley, one of the largest single-family–owned vineyards, which Shari Staglin operates.
Cannon's research on schizophrenia
Cannon and his colleagues have been awarded a $25 million grant, along with six other universities and one hospital, to track young people at high risk for an imminent onset of schizophrenia or other psychosis. The researchers are using brain imaging, genomics and other state-of-the-science approaches to try to predict who will develop these brain disorders and study the unfolding changes in the brain, and to eventually intervene.
At the eight study sites, researchers will study 720 at-risk patients for two years, over a total of five years, and compare them with a control group of 240 healthy adolescents. UCLA is the lead site and is working with Harvard, Yale, UC San Diego, Emory University, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, the University of Calgary and Zucker Hillside Hospital in Long Island, New York. Cannon is the principal investigator on the study, which is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Cannon's research has helped to reveal the nature of schizophrenia at the cellular level. He and his colleagues have discovered unique DNA sequence variations associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia, impairments in short- and long-term memory, and other cognitive deficits. This research holds the promise of a new molecular approach to fighting schizophrenia.
"If we're able to identify people at risk for the illness through sequence variations in genes and know what biochemical pathways are affected by those variations, we're much closer to the day when we can finally prevent schizophrenia," Cannon said.
He and his colleagues reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2005 that they had discovered unique genetic variations in two regions of a gene known as DISC1 on chromosome 1 that are predictive of schizophrenia, neurocognitive deficits, memory impairment and reductions in gray-matter density in the brain's frontal lobes and hippocampus. They found sequence variations within the DISC1 gene that relate to features associated with the underlying neural basis for schizophrenia.
In 2002, Cannon led a team of UCLA scientists who used a novel three-dimensional mapping technique to identify regions of the brain where people with schizophrenia have significantly less gray matter than their identical twins and the rest of the population. The brain regions include those that integrate, interpret and organize information, Cannon and his colleagues reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In earlier research, Cannon identified the fundamental importance of genetic factors, showing that schizophrenia is more than 80 percent genetic and that environmental influences most likely depend on genetic factors as well.
Slightly more than 1 percent of the world's population is afflicted by schizophrenia, including more than 2 million Americans. Males typically develop schizophrenia in their late teens, and females in their early 20s. The symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking, unusual speech and behavior, and social withdrawal. 
Through UCLA's Staglin Family Music Festival Center for the Assessment and Prevention of Prodromal States, Cannon and colleagues are working to prevent and detect schizophrenia in its early stages, as well as other psychotic illnesses, including bipolar disorder. 
"I envision a day when schizophrenia ceases to be a debilitating disease," Cannon said. "Our goal is effective, early intervention. Our psychological and pharmacological interventions are designed to reduce the likelihood of an initial psychotic episode, decrease the severity and chronicity of psychotic illness, and increase social functioning and the likelihood of stable employment."
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer more than 323 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Five alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
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