The inaugural director of Kent State’s Brain Health Research Institute is uniting researchers across disciplines to unlock the mysteries of complex brain functions.
By Lisa Abraham
Photo by Bob Christy, BS '95
magine a poet working with an endocrinologist or a neuroscientist working with a sociologist.
What breakthroughs might result from their collective study as they try to learn more about how the brain works or to research cures for neurodegenerative diseases?
These are the kinds of cross-departmental collaborations that the inaugural director of Kent State University’s Brain Health Research Institute envisions for the future. Through these relationships, Michael Lehman, PhD, is confident that boundary-breaking brain research will blossom.
Dr. Lehman, a leader in the field of neuroendocrinology and circadian rhythms—whose lab has been funded continually by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies for more than 30 years—comes to Kent State from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. There he served as a professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomical Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and as founding chairman of the board of the medical center’s Neuro Institute.
"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.”
— Dr. Michael Lehman
Beginning his new post at Kent State in January, Dr. Lehman was introduced to the university community by President Beverly Warren at an event in February. “We needed a leader who was unconcerned with traditional thinking and loves the pursuit of illuminating outcomes,” President Warren says. “Dr. Lehman is that leader.”
Paul DiCorleto, PhD, vice president for Research and Sponsored Programs, says Kent State was fortunate to find a director of Dr. Lehman’s world-class caliber, and he praised Dr. Lehman’s reputation for working across traditional academic boundaries to spur innovative research.
“Dr. Lehman has a passion for assembling teams that employ multidisciplinary approaches to answering important questions in brain health,” Vice President DiCorleto says.
Putting together a multidisciplinary team
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 says.
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—which includes more than 80 researchers and faculty members representing more than a dozen disciplines—is committed to collaboration and breaking down silos between various departments.
Ongoing brain health research at Kent State encompasses such topics as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, brain injury and neurodegeneration, and brain control of emotion, memory and thought.
“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,” Dr. Lehman says. “It’s only in that way we can hope to unlock the major mysteries of complex brain functions like memory, emotion and consciousness, as well as understand the basis for neurologic and psychiatric diseases.”
The institute, he says, will have a great opportunity “to lead new discoveries in our understanding of the brain—stemming from the wide diversity of research and scholarship on our own campus and our linkages with regional partners in academic medicine—and to translate those discoveries into new treatments for brain and nervous system diseases.”
Before he began formally working at Kent State, Dr. Lehman spent months assembling a steering committee for the institute comprised of representatives from various medical research institutions in Northeast Ohio, including the Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED).
His goal is to unite researchers from a wide range of disciplines at Kent State and throughout Northeast Ohio to explore, expand and advance our knowledge of the human brain and how it functions.
“My hope is the institute will be a nexus for collaboration in both neuroscience research and education,” he says, “stimulating discoveries that will ultimately have a positive impact on the health of Northeast Ohio.”
Dr. Lehman’s main goals for the Brain Health Research Institute:
- To foster research collaborations across the Kent Campus and with our external partners—including the Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital and Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED)—to achieve discoveries that become new treatments for brain diseases.
- To recruit faculty collaboratively with internal and external partners across traditional boundaries.
- To develop shared core facilities with state-of-the-art instrumentation (“collaboratories”) to support cutting-edge research.
- To support neuroscience research training at undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels, and career development at all career stages.