New R25 grant shapes the future of neuroscience research with high school students

Scientists agree that their collective knowledge of how the brain works and what happens when it stops working as it should is severely limited. Many say that until they are able to advance their understanding of the brain—how it functions in computing information, solving problems, processing motor commands, managing emotions and stress, and, in short, controlling our everyday lives—they will fail to truly understand the causes of and develop effective strategies to treat such neurological disorders as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

It’s going to take a new and better way of thinking and doing things to meet the challenges that exist in the field of neuroscience, including learning how to work collaboratively in order to leverage the unique skills, knowledge and talents of colleagues across disciplines that lead to innovative solutions for difficult problems; establishing a common language and standardizing research methods and procedures across specialty lines to assure reliable data collection and dissemination; and coming up with better ways to conduct research, including substituting simulation for traditional forms of basic and clinical research to establish “predictive strategies” that allow for a speedier investigation process.

The next generation of scientists also need to be equipped with the right training to make a demonstrable impact.

Preparing tomorrow’s thought leaders to approach such challenges is the job of educators at The Ohio State University College of Medicine who have worked hard over the years to create programs that train neuroscientists at every level of learning. These include biomedical science graduate and undergraduate programs, a Discovery Prep program to prepare post-baccalaureate students for biomedical PhD graduate work and a unique medical research program, ASPIRE, that provides undergraduate students from underrepresented and disadvantaged groups with early research experience to get them ready for advanced training in the biomedical sciences.

In an effort to reach prospective young researchers at an even earlier age, a team in the Ohio State Department of Neuroscience recently announced the start of a “pipeline” program that aims to attract high school juniors or seniors with an interest in and aptitude for scientific research, specifically in the field of neuroscience, and they encourage interested students from underrepresented minority, economically disadvantaged and/or disabled groups to apply.

Beginning in June 2021, the Explorations in Neuroscience Research Internship, a seven-week, intensive summer immersion experience, will offer substantive research and professional development activities that can only be found at a top-ranked research institution and academic medical center like The Ohio State University. This hands-on program will give “early neuroscientists” a unique opportunity to explore neuroscience research as a career. Participants will work alongside a team of professional scientists on substantive research in laboratory facilities across the medical center, learning to conduct research using advanced methods and protocols, and preparing for their next level of training.

The program was based on a project funded under an R25 grant provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This project, led by Candice Askwith, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Neuroscience at the Ohio State College of Medicine, established the rationale for the program and its potential impact on public health. Over the course of the program, Dr. Askwith, along with Thomas Boyd, PhD, and Georgia Bishop, PhD, who were instrumental in establishing the program, will track the impact of the experience on the participants’ cognitive factors known to promote choice and persistence in research activities, as well as their post-program career trajectories. That information will help them discern the program’s long-term effects—whether these participants go on to pursue degrees in neuroscience, excel in high-quality neuroscience research experiences and promote development of a strong cohort of diverse young investigators dedicated to neurological disease research—and its impact on the biomedical neuroscience research workforce.

Learn more about Ohio State’s Explorations in Neuroscience Research Internship.