Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute launches upcoming season of three seminar series

Joseph S. Takahashi
Joseph S. Takahashi

How does the human brain process fear? Can medications revolutionize the treatment of alcoholism? How does the brain’s dopamine system affect disorders like depression and schizophrenia? What role do drug reactions play in sudden cardiac death?

The fifth annual season of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Distinguished Scholars Series will help answer these questions and more. And the series is just one of three that the institute sponsors each year.

The Distinguished Scholars Series lectures are open to the public and will bring experts in the fields of biomedical and health research from across the country to Roanoke to discuss their findings and the impact of their work.

Anthony Grace, a Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will open the series on September 11 with a discussion of how changes in the regulation of dopamine neuron activity in the brain can lead to such psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia and depression.

Other lectures in this year’s series will touch on current issues such as what the Affordable Care Act means for the treatment of alcoholism. Charles O’Brien, the Kenneth E. Appel Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, will talk about the benefits of treating alcoholism with both talk therapy and relapse-prevention medications. He will also discuss how the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance covers substance abuse will potentially change how such conditions are treated.

Gail Robertson, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, will examine the role of adverse drug reactions in sudden cardiac death. She will discuss how researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, and the federal government can work together to prevent such occurrences.

The lectures will also cover topics such as how the human brain processes fear and what it means for the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, the mechanisms by which animal influenzas can infect humans and the pandemic potential of these influenzas, the diagnosis and treatment of heart valve disease, how the circadian clock can affect behavior, and the abilities of different cells in the body to respond to infections and autoimmune diseases.

“The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute is excited to welcome national leaders in biomedical and health research to Roanoke for another season of enlightening lectures,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the research institute. “This is a unique opportunity to learn from top experts in their fields, and we hope the community will join us.”

The free lectures will take place on Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke. A free public reception will precede each lecture at 5:00 p.m. in the VTC Café. Live, streaming video of the lectures and archived webcasts will also be available on the website.

Another of the institute’s series, the Frontiers in Biomedical Research Seminar Series, features pioneering scientists in the field of biomedical research.

On September 12, Erica Ollmann Saphire, a professor of immunology and microbial science at the Scripps Institute and a leading expert in the field of Ebola virus, will discuss her laboratory’s work to untangle the mysteries of the Ebola lifecycle.

Why young adults abuse certain drugs, how the heart and embryonic vessels develop, cannabis use disorder, and synaptic plasticity are just a sampling of the other topics that will be covered in the series.

The third series, the Timothy A. Johnson Medical Scholars Series, highlights the work of clinician-scientists in the field of medicine. Les Biesecker, a senior investigator in the Genetic Disease Research Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute, will be the first featured speaker of the season on September 12. Biesecker will discuss the importance of a hypothesis-generating approach to research and a predictive-medicine approach to clinical care of patients.

Other speakers in the series include Hirohoto Kita, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Professor of Pulmonary Medicine and a professor in medicine and immunology at the Mayo Clinic. Kita’s talk will focus on the prevention, treatment, and cure of allergic diseases.

Helen Bronte-Stewart, director of the Stanford Movement Disorders Clinic, will discuss the role brain arrhythmias play in neuropsychiatric diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

The series will also feature lectures on topics such as autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, pulmonary hypertension, and new approaches to helping patients quit smoking.

The complete schedules for the Distinguished Scholars Series, the Frontiers in Biomedical Research Seminar Series, and the Timothy A. Johnson Medical Scholar Series can be found on the institute’s website.

Written by Susannah Netherland