The University of Illinois has partnered with an Illinois pharmaceutical and nutritional products company to create a new center on campus that will focus on interdisciplinary nutrition and cognition research.
At the UI Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory, researchers will tackle the "grand challenge" of answering a wide range of questions, such as how exercise and nutrition affect brain development in older adults, how nutrition aids soldiers with brain injury or the importance of lutein in eye and brain development.
The center will receive financial backing from Abbott Nutrition, and members of its executive committee, made up of UI and Abbott employees, will set goals and priorities for the new campus entity. It will be led by two directors: one from the UI (Neal Cohen, UI psychology professor and neuroscience program director) and one from Abbott (Keith Garleb, Abbott's director of global discovery research and a UI graduate). The center's executive committee includes an even mix of university and company personnel.
"We're trying to take a major leap forward," Cohen said. "We have fantastic expertise," within a variety of units on campus in the study of learning and memory in humans, in nutritional science and other areas, he said.
"And the U of I brings a multidisciplinary approach," to this grand challenge of addressing questions in nutrition, learning and memory, said Robert Miller, divisional vice president in research & development and scientific affairs at Abbott Nutrition.
"How do you go after a grand challenge? You do so in this fashion," by creating a "trans-institute" project, bringing together the interdisciplinary research institutions on campus, Cohen said. The center will involve the UI's Beckman Institute and the Institute for Genomic Biology, in addition to the UI's Division of Nutritional Sciences and Neuroscience Program.
Miller said Abbott has worked with the university in many different ways over the past 20 years, from sponsoring research to hiring graduates and most recently opening a small research center at the UI Research Park. That center employs one Abbott employee and eight to 10 UI students.
Discussions about the new Center for Nutrition, Learning and Memory began in earnest around February, according to Miller.
"Given Abbott's interest in making a serious effort of understanding the effects of nutrition on health and fitness, it was a perfect moment" for establishing the center, Cohen said.
Abbott has committed to funding research for five years.
"We're going to have really two types of research under this umbrella center: directed research," which is research that Abbott identifies in partnership with UI professors, and solicited research projects, which will involve seeking proposals from researchers that advance certain themes in nutrition, learning and memory, Miller said.
Some projects will receive up to $200,000, and others can receive up to $1 million, he said. The total amount will depend on the number and quality of proposals.
Experts from other UI campuses and universities are welcome to participate in the competition, but the principle investigators must be from the Urbana campus, Cohen said.
More information is available at http://www.cnlm.illinois.edu .
In addition to the directors and the center's executive committee, there will be an external advisory board made up of members from outside Abbott and the University of Illinois.
Abbott Nutrition is part of Abbott, an Illinois company based north of Chicago. Earlier this year the company announced it would divide the company into two separate companies: one focused on medical products, the other on pharmaceuticals. The separation is expected to occur in late 2012.