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Renowned computational neurobiologist James Bower joins UTHSC's Research Imaging Center
(2-27-02)

In what is described as a "huge coup" for San Antonio, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) announced Tuesday that it has recruited world-renowned computational neurobiologist James Bower, Ph.D.

Dr. Bower has been on the faculty of the California Institute of Technology, located in Pasadena, since 1984. His research has involved studies of the senses of touch and smell. He has played a major role in the establishment of Caltech's Computation and Neural Systems graduate training program, which was the first in the world to train computational neurobiologists. For 15 years his laboratory has been involved in the design, development and support of the GENESIS simulation system, now used around the world to build computational models of neurons and networks. He organized the first summer course in that subject at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., in 1990.

Recently, Dr. Bower has been involved in extending the use of computational tools into molecular and cellular biology. Four years ago he offered one of the first courses in the world on modeling techniques for molecular and cellular biology, which served as the basis for a book he recently co-authored with Dr. Hamid Bolouri on this subject. Dr. Bower has expressed a keen interest in constructing a computational infrastructure that would link biologists at the Health Science Center and UTSA.

He brings three current grants to the Health Science Center with funding of $900,000 over the next three years, and is writing several new proposals.

Dr. Bower said he jumped at the chance to join UTHSC's internationally respected Research Imaging Center under the direction of Peter T. Fox, M.D. "We have an opportunity to do something that's not being done anywhere else — to link neurobiology at the cellular and network level to cognitive biology at the imaging level," Dr. Bower said during a reception at the imaging center.

Dr. Bower began collaborating with Dr. Fox in the mid-1990s during a National Institutes of Health-sponsored tour of India. "We were at dinner one night when Peter said, 'So, tell me your theory on the role of the cerebellum [a brain structure traditionally thought to be chiefly involved in motor activities]. I told him I thought it was involved in many activities besides movements. Peter said, 'We have some intriguing data — from our studies of subjects who stutter — that suggest the same thing.' We therefore decided to co-design an experiment to test our ideas about cerebellar function, and the result was a 1996 paper that appeared in Science. That collaboration was one of the first examples of merging our fields, and that was one of the first papers of its kind in the scientific literature."

Dr. Bower joins an outstanding staff of researchers who publish in major journals every month. Research Imaging Center authors have reported key understandings of stuttering, depression, music and the brain, memory, the neural response to thirst and breathlessness, and the series of studies started by Drs. Bower and Fox that are revolutionizing thinking about the cerebellum. "The only way I could get them [RIC staff] to do as many experiments as I wanted was to come here," Dr. Bower said. "For sure, amazing science will be the result."

In addition to his research, Dr. Bower also is well known for his work in science education outreach to grades K-12. Through his years at Caltech, Dr. Bower managed more than $12 million in outreach efforts to local, state, national and international school districts. His interest in science education has been channeled into the development of an educational Web site for children, www.whyville.net, which recently surpassed 250,000 registered users and is directed at engaging middle school-aged children in inquiry-based science learning.

Dr. Bower's primary appointment is as professor and chief of the electrophysiology division at the Research Imaging Center, and he has secondary appointments in UTHSC's departments of physiology and pharmacology. He is jointly appointed as professor in the division of life sciences at UTSA.

The Research Imaging Center, located in the Health Science Center's Robert F. McDermott Clinical Science Building on Floyd Curl Drive, celebrated its 10th anniversary in October 2001. The center employs an unparalleled array of state-of-the-art scientific imaging instruments, including a positron emission tomography (PET) system and functional magnetic resonance imaging system. The PET system was a joint purchase of the South Texas Veterans Health Care System and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The center is the base of efforts to map the human brain. Dr. Fox is a leading initiator of that research and convened the world's experts in San Antonio in 2001.

Contact: Will Sansom or Aileen Salinas