Message from the Director
The Institute is a remarkably active group, including terrific individual research, high quality collaborative programmes, strong teaching, vigorous international and public engagement activities as well as leadership in Neuroscience. Considerable effort is required to fund, sustain and drive this level of activity. In financially tight times, it is a credit to the quality and commitment of TCIN PI's not only to keep the shop open but also to keep it optimistic and thriving.
But before the good stuff, we must quickly touch on the "External Reviews." 2016 involved two wholly independent external reviews, first of the Neuroscience Research Theme that TCIN represents, and second a "Quality Review" of TCIN as a Research Institute which finished in April, presciently termed "the cruellest month" by T.S.Eliot. The process resulted in two approximately 400-page documents, with tables, charts, benchmarking exercises, impact factors, performance indicators, peer comparisons and all kinds of quantitative parameters and statistical analyses that are available to the keenly interested and the measurement minded. TCIN was pleased with the results: the Neuroscience Theme was among the 6 "A" ranked themes in College, and the Institute "Quality Review," enthusiastically recommended continued support for the Institute. From the Director's chair, it is equally pleasing that there is a likely 6-year gap before the next reviews. Having justified our existence, we now have the space to focus our academic and scientific missions.
Among the most exciting events in an academic unit, is the arrival of new academic staff. Since 2016, we have welcomed Simon McCarthy Jones, Clare Kelly, Rob Whelan and Tomas Ryan to Trinity College as new TCIN PIs. Simon, based in the Department of Psychiatry, has published three books on his research focus, auditory hallucinations during psychosis, including "Can’t You Hear Them? The Science and Significance of Hearing Voices," to be published in 2017. Clare, who recently won a NARSAD Investigator Award, came to us from the NYU Child Study Center with a vision to combine translational cognitive neuroscience and functional connectomics methodologies to better understand the development of normal and variant brain functional organisation. Rob and his research group moved 4 miles on the N11 from UCD to Trinity. He has previously developed and used machine-learning algorithms to analyze large-scale structural and functional fMRI data obtained from 14-year old males, to successfully predict teenagers who would become binge drinkers at age 16. Rob's research, supported by NARSAD, SFI, HRB and other sources, aims to combine new task-based EEG and fMRI data acquisition and analytical methodologies to discover diagnostic and prognostic neural markers for a range of disorders, including addiction, ADHD and cognitive decline. Tomas, now funded by an SFI President of Ireland Young Investigator Award, an ERC Starter Grant Award, and a Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship arrives from Nobel Prize winner Susumu Tonegawa's group in MIT, where he drove a series of stunning experiments that visualized memory engram cells in vivo for the first time, and showed that experimental activation of these marked engram cells is sufficient for memory recall in mice.Thanks to successful 2016 recruiting efforts, we further look forward to welcoming Rhodri Cusack, Lorina Naci and Claire Gillian to the TCIN in 2017. Finally, Colm Cunningham will transition from Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellow in TCIN to Assistant Professor in Neuroscience with new NIH RO1 grant funding.
Rarer, but also of tremendous impact to an academic unit, is winning support for visionary new expansions in emerging research areas. In 2016, Trinity College launched the Global Brain Health Institute, which aims to reduce the scale and impact of dementia around the world. GBHI, led and driven in Ireland by TCIN PIs Ian Robertson and Brian Lawlor, is a collaboration with the University of California supported by an approximately $170 million grant from Atlantic Philanthropies, the largest single philanthropic investment in Ireland. Its core activity is the training and supporting a new generation of leaders that translate research evidence into effective policy and practice. However, it has huge impact on TCIN. GBHI allows 8 new PIs to be recruited and to build scale in the area of brain ageing. It provides new space and infrastructure, as well as the opportunity and the challenge to create a new research ecosystem in which insights, technologies and innovations in Neuroscience are channeled through cross disciplinary, public-private, and international collaborations to address issues of cognitive ageing and dementia. It will impact this huge problem of the 21st Century at all levels ranging from education and policy, through the development of diagnostic technologies and therapeutic strategies, to social and clinical delivery. With the energetic current leadership and exciting new recruits, we have an opportunity to be a major international hub in this explosive field.
Going forward for TCIN, it is important to further increase our contributions, impact and value to our stakeholders. First, it is critical that participating schools and departments appreciate the value that TCIN brings to their different but overlapping missions, as well as to opportunities and successes for their academic staff. In this regard, I look forward to deeper communication and renewed collaboration with each individual school, particularly the School of Medicine that has an expanding programme in Translational Neuroscience.
Second, TCIN should not only promote and support individual research, but also continue to develop large-scale collaborative research programmes by identifying and facilitating new synergistic collaborations. Despite TCIN successes in the philanthropic and intellectual dimensions, and its PIs' resounding success with the creation of GBHI, there are several possibilities for international academic, multi-institutional collaborations that we should continue to explore and develop vigorously. In addition, TCIN should increase its efforts to engage in a more coordinated manner with Industry. Not only is this part of the social contract for contemporary academics, but also it is an expectation that major philanthropic or public investments will result in visible societal or economic impact. Over the past year we initiated several external discussions with interesting Industrial and Academic partners.
Third, and arguably most important, is that TCIN continues to develop, and represent Neuroscience in its broadest sense to students, researchers and the public. We are lucky that Neuroscience has captured public imagination like no other field and is an increasingly attractive area for teaching, research and innovation. We have been recently funded through a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) award to build activities that bridge Neuroscience and the Humanities, exploring and discussing neural mechanisms that underlie key features of the human experience (including for example Music, Art, Poetry, Business, Philosophy, Alienation and Identity) and to develop these into new research, teaching and public engagement activities. These will help build local and international cross-disciplinary links and also to seed new courses targeted to the broader student population. Several TCIN PIs, notably Ian Robertson, Shane O'Mara and Simon McCarthy Jones have independently written popular books and participated extensively in public engagement. I hope that the ISSF will help build campus-wide activities involving neuroscience.
The progress of the Institute is hugely dependent on enthusiasm and participation of the TCIN PIs, which has been terrific. I thank them all and ask for even deeper engagement in the coming year. I also thank Vinny Cahill (Dean FEMS), John Boland (Dean of Research), Veronica Campbell (Bursar), Linda Hogan and now Chris Morash (Vice Provost) and Paddy Prendergast (Provost) for their positive engagement with the Institute. But special thanks are due to members of the TCIN Executive Management Committee for their support and engagement. In particular to Veronica O'Keane and Declan McLaughlin who make the time while also managing their clinical commitments, as well as Marina Lynch and Shane O'Mara, prior TCIN Directors. My job is made easier and far more pleasant by working with Andrew Harkin, Deputy Director TCIN, Ciaran Conneely Operations Director, and Barbara Hewitt, Finance Manager TCIN.