UC Irvine this month will embark on two major projects intended to strengthen its stature as an international center for brain research.
The university broke ground Tuesday on a $4.7-million building that will double the size of its renowned Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, designed to entice young scientists to campus to probe the mind's ability to grasp and retain information.
Next week, UCI will begin building a nearly $20-million neurosciences research facility, dedicated to research in the areas of brain aging, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental disorders. The 64,000-square-foot facility will be the first of six to eight buildings comprising the university's Center for the Health Sciences, slated for completion in more than a decade.
The pair of projects signals UC Irvine's continued commitment to an area of research in which it already excels, Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening said.
"Neurosciences research is one of our strong points," she said. "It's probably our flagship biomedical research program. These two facilities are really important to us to have any growth in the program, because right now there is no space for new faculty and students."
The projects come during what has been dubbed the Decade of the Brain, in which scientists, through brain scanning technologies and basic research in such areas as molecular neurobiology, are coming to a greater understanding of how humans think.
The learning and memory building "helps us make the transition into the 21st Century," said Dr. James L. McGaugh, founding director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. "This is a very exciting day. We've been dreaming and planning about this building for 10 years now."
McGaugh said he hopes young researchers at the expanded facility, called the Anisa Qureshey Research Laboratory, will further explore the role of emotions and stress in memory, as well as genetic dysfunctions leading to impaired memory.
McGaugh already is well known for his work on the role of hormones and drugs in memory enhancement. Other researchers at UC Irvine have gained recognition for showing how neurons change in response to learning and memory, and how sensory experiences alter the organization of the nervous system.
The neurosciences research facility will be part of a Health Sciences Center that is intended ultimately to produce devices and drugs for the treatment of diseases. The center will include buildings dedicated to at least four other areas of research: genetics, cancer, cardiovascular disease and cell aging and development.
The facility is being funded partly through a legislative initiative and partly through private donors and foundations, Wilkening said. The learning and memory center expansion is being entirely funded through private sources, she said. It is named in honor of the daughter of lead donors Anita and Safi Qureshey. He is the chairman of AST Research.