Interest in understanding the molecular bases of neurodegeneration and diseases of the nervous system has increased dramatically over the past decade. Nowhere is this truer than at The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). Scientists and physicians spanning many research and clinical departments, and diverse fields of expertise, are now working to address seminal questions in the area of neurodegenerative disease. The campus-wide efforts of these >40 laboratories were finally nucleated in 2009, shortly after UMMS recruited two major figures with interests in neurodegenerative disease—Dr. Melissa J. Moore and Dr. Robert Brown. Dr. Moore, best known as a leader in the field of RNA processing and metabolism, had recently turned her interests toward the role of RNA metabolism in neurodegeneration. She is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. Dr Robert Brown is a world leader in the field of neuromuscular diseases, especially in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He is Professor and Chair of the UMMS Department of Neurology. In the summer of 2009, Dr. Moore assembled a monthly faculty discussion group where researchers met for lively discussions on research in NTI member laboratories.
The NTI club is a unique combination of basic biomedical researchers, physician-scientists, and clinicians with a common interest in neurodegenerative disease mechanisms and treatment. Several NTI members spend 100% of their time performing basic biomedical research aimed at understanding nervous system function and maintenance. Many are physician-scientists who interact directly with patients, but also pursue basic and clinical research projects. Our approaches to understanding the root causes of disease are extremely diverse; our group includes crystallographers, biochemists, genomics experts, and geneticists. Our experimental models range from small model organisms like C. elegans (roundworms) and Drosophila (fruit flies) through humans. Because the breadth of expertise in this group is so multi-disciplinary, our discussions of disease mechanisms range from structural aspects of disease molecules, to the cell biology of certain neurons, to population studies in patients. This creates a singular environment in which we work together to understand disease at multiple levels, and design forward-thinking lines of investigation to attack central question in the field. This expansive and collaborative approach is allowing us to unravel disease mechanisms in novel ways. Moreover, since NTI researchers span such a range of disciplines and methodologies, NTI members are able to rapidly move in new directions using almost any approach available in modern biomedical research.
NTI members found the discussions and collaborations that evolved from the NTI club meetings so stimulating and productive that we formalized our group as the Neurotherapeutics Institute in 2010, under the leadership of Drs Moore, Brown, Neil Aronin (Dept of Medicine) and Marc Freeman (Dept of Neurobiology).