Rice University has announced that a $1.5 million grant from the Lufkin, Texas-based T.L.L. Temple Foundation will fund establishment of the first core laboratory at the Texas Medical Center at Houston dedicated to the study of neuroplasticity — the capacity of the human brain to reorganize itself after traumatic injury or damage caused by a neurological disorder. The 6,900 bed Texas Medical Center, whose 280 buildings cover 1,300 acres, is the largest medical complex in the world — an internationally recognized community of healing, learning and discovery.
To be named the T.L.L. Temple Foundation Neuroplasticity Research Laboratory, the new facility will specialize in research and development of greater understanding of how cognitive functions in the brain work over time following damage from stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and other neurological illnesses. This lab will be one of only a handful in the U.S. devoted to examining behavioral consequences of these conditions and how changes in the brain underlie behavioral changes.
The approximately 6,000-square-foot T.L.L. Temple Foundation Neuroplasticity Research Laboratory will housed on the seventh floor of Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative, a 10-story building on the corner of Houston’s University Boulevard and Main Street built to facilitate pooling of researchers efforts at Rice U. and the TMC. The new laboratory’s research team will be headed by Randi Martin, the Elma Schneider Professor in Rice’s Department of Psychology. Dr. Martin will be joined in the T.L.L. Temple Foundation laboratory by Rice assistant professor of psychology Simon Fischer-Baum, who specializes in conducting research on memory and brain function. According to a Rice release, the neuroplasticity lab will serve as a neuroscience research hub that will allow access not only to Rice faculty but to researchers from other institutions in the Texas Medical Center who will be able to take advantage of equipment and analyses available in the lab.
Drs. Martin and Fischer-Baum will be joined by Rice junior faculty, research scientists and graduate students, with space to be made available to other TMC medical researchers who want to use the laboratory on a project basis.
Dr. Martin is cited in the Rice release commenting that most neuroscience laboratories focus on how the brain behaves at a particular point in time, as opposed to looking at brain behavior over time, adding that knowledge gained from research done at the T.L.L. Temple Foundation Neuroplasticity Research Laboratory will have “important implications for prognosis and treatment” of stroke, traumatic brain injury and other neurological disorders, anticipated to benefit the large number of individuals living with cognitive consequences of brain damage. The release notes that stroke alone affects more than 795,000 people annually in the United States; and that many stroke experience survivors suffer language, memory or perceptual impairments.
“The difference between the new laboratory and other cognitive neuroscience laboratories around the country is the emphasis on plasticity,” observes Dr. Martin, “[is that] we want to know what happens to the brain during recovery and what happens between the acute stage and six months or a year down the road. Very few neuroscience laboratories bring together both the study of people with brain damage and those with normal function as well as brain plasticity. We’ve always thought that the TMC was the perfect place to build this type of laboratory, given the access to people affected by stroke and other types of brain damage.”
Dr. Martin says the location of the new lab is “very appropriate” because Houston and surrounding counties are situated in an area known as the “stroke belt,” a region in the southeastern United States in which stroke incidence is higher than the national average.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to the T.L.L. Temple Foundation for their support of the neuroplasticity laboratory, which will help advance our understanding of stroke and brain injury recovery, create a premier collaboration between Rice and other institutions in the Texas Medical Center and add to the strength of cognitive neuroscience in our Psychology Department,” says Lyn Ragsdale, dean of Rice’s School of Social Sciences.
The Rice researchers hope to add substantial study programs to complement the T.L.L. Temple Foundation’s investment already made in prevention and medical treatment for stroke and brain injury in recent years. Build-out of the lab is expected to be completed by year end 2013, subject to approval from the Rice Board of Trustees.
The T.L.L. Temple Foundation was established in 1962 by Georgia Temple Munz in honor of her father, Thomas Lewis Latané Temple, an East Texas lumberman and founder of Southern Pine Lumber Company (later Temple Industries). The nonprofit organization is operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, primarily in areas of the deep East Texas pine timber belt. Major grants have been made in support of community improvement, health and medicine, education and human services.