Vol 9. Issue 31 / October 19, 2009
Ronald Davis Joins Scripps Florida as Founding Chair of New Neuroscience Department
By Eric Sauter
Ronald L. Davis, formerly the R.P. Doherty-Welch Professor of Science at Baylor College of Medicine, has joined The Scripps Research Institute as the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience on the Scripps Florida campus. Davis is best known for his work in the areas of memory and learning, particularly on the molecular and cellular basis of memory formation and related brain disorders.
"It gives me great pleasure to announce Ron Davis's appointment," said Gerald Joyce, dean of the faculty at Scripps Research. "Ron will be a wonderful addition to our academic community and to the institute."
"I'm tremendously excited to be joining the Scripps Research faculty and to be building a new neuroscience department on the Scripps Florida campus," said Davis, who began the new position last month. "There are so many great scientists at Scripps Florida. I'm proud to be associated with it." Davis, who is 57, visited the campus several times before making the decision to join.
"When I first visited Scripps Florida everyone was still in the temporary buildings," he said, "and I thought, well, this looks like it could be an intriguing idea. But after spending time here in these beautiful new buildings—which have been remarkably well designed—and with all the people here—whose enthusiasm and professionalism are unequal to any I've experienced in my career—I couldn't help but come away with an overall feeling of excitement for what's going on."
A Passion for the Field of Learning and Memory
While at Baylor College of Medicine, Davis and his colleagues used a variety of techniques and technologies to understand learning, memory, and other types of behavior in Drosophila (the common fruit fly) and other animal models. More recently, the research team extended those studies to humans by focusing on the genetics of mood disorders.
"Learning and memory have been my passion for many years," Davis said, "deciphering the molecular basis of how animals learn and then applying that knowledge to humans. There's so much we have yet to uncover about the underlying mechanisms. What we're trying to do is gain a fundamental understanding of the molecular architecture of learning and memory mechanisms, apply that information to understand the susceptibility factors for psychiatric and neurological diseases, and then use that to develop potential treatments."
For Davis, Scripps Florida's drug discovery program, with high-throughput screening and drug development technologies, ranks high on the list of critically important resources that he plans to utilize.
"Trying to uncover potential agents for cognitive enhancement in various disease states, and in the normal state for that matter, is tremendously important for the work in my own lab," he said. "Given the levels of Alzheimer's disease diagnosed in the Baby Boom Generation, we hope these agents will be discovered over the next 10 years or so—and that Scripps Florida will play a role in those discoveries."
Sparking Connections in Neuroscience
The new Florida-based Department of Neuroscience will play an important role in the Program in Neurosciences, a recently created umbrella group that encompasses faculty in a number of Scripps Research departments, including the Molecular and Integrative Neurosciences Department (MIND), the Department of Neurobiology, and the Committee on the Neurobiology of Addictive Disorders (CNAD) on the La Jolla, California campus, as well as other investigators at Scripps Research with an interest in the field.
The program, which was created to foster a broad exchange of scientific ideas, is also designed to promote research collaborations, attract new sources of government and private funding, and facilitate the recruitment of new faculty to both campuses.
This fits in well with Davis's own research philosophy—that solving complex problems such as how memories are formed requires a multi-level, interdisciplinary approach. During his years at Baylor College of Medicine, this approach led to an affiliation with eight different departments, centers, and other programs at the Houston-based medical school, he said.
At Scripps Florida, Davis expects to hire about 10 new faculty members over the next several years, focusing on four main areas: learning and memory; diseases of learning and memory; sleep; and the mechanisms of anesthetics.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu