CNLM Building an Interdisciplinary Foundation

Less than nine months after the announcement of its creation, the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory (CNLM) held an initial Investigator Meeting at the Beckman Institute recently to help fashion a truly interdisciplinary foundation for this unique enterprise.

Less than nine months after the announcement of its creation, the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory (CNLM) held an initial Investigator Meeting at the Beckman Institute recently to help fashion a truly interdisciplinary foundation for this unique enterprise.

While many centers are often years in the making, CNLM got research started with an initial round of funding from Abbott, a global nutrition company, for 14 selected proposals that were announced in April. All of the research projects – with support funding ranging from $175K to $2.5M – are already under way. On Aug. 24 a meeting was held to bring together the researchers to share their work with fellow CNLM investigators.

CNLM Associate Director Emily Wee said holding an initial investigator meeting was not common for research centers. But, from a fast-track beginning to its team approach to doing research, CNLM is not looking like a typical center.

“I think this is a hallmark of the Center,” Wee said. “We’re developing an intellectual community where all the investigators have a vested interest in the success of the center. The idea is that by having the investigators share their projects, talk about where they see them going, and the types of challenges and opportunities they foresee, we hope to build an intellectual community at the Center. And that’s different from other centers.”

Everyone around the table are excellent scientists, deeply interested in the problem. We’re looking to find the commonalities across the different projects to contribute to their success.
– Neal Cohen

The Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory is a partnership between Abbott and Illinois units, the Beckman Institute, the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), the Division of Nutritional Sciences, and the Neuroscience Program. Neal Cohen is the University of Illinois Director of CNLM, while Keith Garleb is the Abbott Director.

At the meeting, Cohen and a dozen other Illinois principal investigators of CNLM’s first round of research projects talked about their work, with three discussion sessions held to increase interactions between the researchers.

Research topics include a wide range of studies, from the effects of nutrition on populations such as adolescents to nutrition and neuronal development. The meeting was also intended as a platform for building a center that is very much in the interdisciplinary, collaborative mode. A final discussion session included common challenges faced by researchers, and ways they can work together, even though their research projects are varied.

“All those with a stake in the Center are going to jointly create a foundation for what’s to come,” Cohen said. “The first meeting is to build that foundation, make sure that everyone is fully informed about the scope of activities of the entire Center, contribute to one another’s progress intellectually by commenting on one another’s projects, and jointly plan a vision for the future, for the next step for the Center.”

The selected proposals were the result of a Grand Challenge request sent to researchers across campus. The Challenge helps underscore how Cohen views the mission of the Center for Nutrition, Learning, and Memory.

“The Center is the set of investigators and set of projects that are trying to find nutritional enhancement in learning and memory,” he said. “Though there are different investigators for each of the projects, the grand challenge itself is the ultimate team-based, interdisciplinary project.

“Everyone around the table are excellent scientists, deeply interested in the problem. We’re looking to find the commonalities across the different projects to contribute to their success. If everyone shares the goal of the Center, which is the Grand Challenge succeeding as a whole, moving forward of course you will want to hear what all the other projects are about and bring them together and make the entire enterprise successful.”

A second round call for proposals will go out in the Fall semester. For more information, click here.