Exciting Future Predicted for Brain Health Research Institute

With great hope and expectations for the future of brain health research at Kent State University, President Beverly J. Warren introduced Michael N. Lehman, Ph.D., as the inaugural director of the university’s Brain Health Research Institute on Feb. 25.

Dr. Lehman, a leader in the field of neuroendocrinology and circadian rhythms, comes to Kent State from the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he served as a professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences, and where he was chairman of the board of its Neuro Institute.

President Warren spoke at an event in the lobby of the Integrated Sciences Building where she introduced Dr. Lehman publicly for the first time. Dr. Lehman’s hiring was effective Jan. 2.

President Warren said the Brain Health Research Institute was a dream and a vision of many at Kent State, including James Blank, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Todd Diacon, Ph.D., executive vice president and provost; Paul DiCorleto, Ph.D., vice president for research and sponsored programs; Ernie Freeman, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the School of Biomedical Sciences; and John Gunstad, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences, who will serve as assistant director of the Brain Health Research Institute.

“These are the leaders that dreamed the dream, who saw the vision,” President Warren said. 

President Warren noted how Kent State was the right place for this kind of research because the university pursues innovation and fearless research collectively to produce “ongoing breakthroughs in 21st century health.”

Kent State approaches the study of the brain holistically, beginning with extending the life of a healthy brain and then ignoring the conventional wisdom to achieve new levels of research success, she said.

“We needed a leader who was unconcerned with traditional thinking and loves the pursuit of illuminating outcomes,” President Warren said. “Dr. Lehman is that leader.”

President Warren said she insisted on a director for the institute who was able to “talk across boundaries and interpret different languages from various colleges,” and she is confident that Dr. Lehman fits that bill.

“When a poet and a sociologist team up with an endocrinologist, we know the magic that happens,” she said. “We know that the world changes.”

Dr. Lehman said neuroscience requires fully understanding the brain and how it works as well as how it malfunctions.

“We need to look at the brain at many different levels of complexity – from that of molecules and cells all the way up to behavior and cognitive function,” he said. “It’s only in that way that we can hope to unlock the major mysteries of complex brain functions like memory, emotion, consciousness, as well as understand the basis for neurologic and psychiatric diseases.”

The diverse range of brain health research already taking place on campus makes Kent State particularly well suited to the multidisciplinary nature of neuroscience, Dr. Lehman said.

He used the example of David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, and his colleagues “who are exploring the neuroscience of poetry and expressive language and its ability to heal the injured brain.”

Dr. Lehman stressed that the institute is committed to collaboration and breaking down silos between various departments. The institute includes 80 researchers and faculty members representing more than a dozen disciplines.

The institute’s main goals include:

  • Growing research collaborations across the Kent Campus and with the external partners to achieve discoveries that become new treatments for brain disease.
  • Recruit faculty collaboratively across traditional boundaries.
  • Develop core, state-of-the-art facilities to support cutting-edge research.
  • Support neuroscience research training at undergraduate and graduate levels and career development at all career stages.

Dr. Lehman’s wife, Lique Coolen, Ph.D., a neuroscience researcher who studies addiction and spinal cord injury, also joined Kent State on Jan. 2 as an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. One of her key roles is supporting career development and helping to increase grant funding for graduate, undergraduate and faculty researchers.

Dr. Lehman noted how Kent State will offer a new bachelor’s degree in neuroscience beginning in Fall Semester 2019. 

Faculty and leadership within the College of Arts and Sciences have been working on the development of the undergraduate degree for a number of years, according to Dean Blank. The effort began as a collaboration between the departments of Biological Sciences and Psychological Sciences.

Dr. Lehman said the brain health institute is holding a strategic planning retreat on March 1 to help define its goals and future directions. To learn more, visit www.kent.edu/brainhealth.

President Warren praised Dr. Lehman for the work he already has done in his short time on campus to create a steering committee that includes representatives from the Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED). 

She noted with pride the high level of researchers at work at Kent State who could work anywhere in the world but chose to make Kent State their home.

“The institute is going to recruit and inspire the next generation of brain health researchers,” President Warren said.

For more information about Kent State’s Brain Health Research Institute, visit www.kent.edu/brainhealth