Rice to create lab for study of recovery from brain damage

A $1.5 million grant from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation will enable researchers at Rice University to build out the Texas Medical Center’s (TMC) first core laboratory devoted to studying neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to reorganize itself after traumatic injury or neurological disorders.

RANDI MARTIN

The T.L.L. Temple Foundation Neuroplasticity Research Laboratory will specialize in developing an understanding of cognitive functions in the brain over time following stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and other neurological disorders. The laboratory will be one of only a few in the country examining the behavioral consequences of these conditions and how changes in the brain underlie the behavioral changes.

The approximately 6,000-square-foot lab will be housed on the seventh floor of Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative, the 10-story building on the corner of University Boulevard and Main Street that was designed to encourage researchers at Rice and the TMC to work together. Randi Martin, the Elma Schneider Professor in Rice’s Department of Psychology, will lead the laboratory’s research team. Martin will be joined in the T.L.L. Temple Foundation laboratory by Simon Fischer-Baum, assistant professor of psychology at Rice, who conducts research on memory and brain function. The space will serve as a neuroscience research hub that allows access not only to Rice faculty but to researchers from other institutions in the Texas Medical Center who will take advantage of equipment and analyses available in the neuroplasticity lab.

Martin said that most neuroscience laboratories focus on how the brain behaves at a particular point in time, as opposed to looking at brain behavior over time. She said the knowledge gained from their research will have “important implications for prognosis and treatment” of stroke, traumatic brain injury and other neurological disorders. Many individuals live with the cognitive consequences of brain damage. For instance, stroke affects more than 795,000 people a year in the United States; many of those who survive a stroke experience language, memory or perceptual impairments.

“The difference between the new laboratory and other cognitive neuroscience laboratories around the country is the emphasis on plasticity,” Martin said. “We want to know what happens to the brain during recovery and what happens between the acute stage and six months or a year down the road. Very few neuroscience laboratories bring together both the study of people with brain damage and those with normal function as well as brain plasticity. We’ve always thought that the TMC was the perfect place to build this type of laboratory, given the access to people affected by stroke and other types of brain damage.”

Martin said the location of the new lab is “very appropriate” because Houston and surrounding counties are situated in an area known as the “stroke belt,” a region in the southeastern United States in which stroke incidence is higher than the national average.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to the T.L.L. Temple Foundation for their support of the neuroplasticity laboratory, which will help advance our understanding of stroke and brain injury recovery, create a premier collaboration between Rice and other institutions in the Texas Medical Center and add to the strength of cognitive neuroscience in our Psychology Department,” said Lyn Ragsdale, dean of Rice’s School of Social Sciences.

Martin will be joined by junior faculty, research scientists and graduate students from Rice, and space will be available to other TMC medical researchers who want to use the laboratory on a project basis.

The researchers hope to add substantial studies to complement the investment the T.L.L. Temple Foundation has already made in prevention and medical treatment for stroke and brain injury in recent years. Build-out of the lab is expected to be completed by the end of the year, subject to approval from the Rice Board of Trustees.

The T.L.L. Temple Foundation was established in 1962 by Georgia Temple Munz in honor of her father, Thomas Lewis Latané Temple, an East Texas lumberman and founder of Southern Pine Lumber Company (later Temple Industries). The nonprofit organization is operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, primarily in areas of the deep East Texas pine timber belt. Major grants have been made in support of community improvement, health and medicine, education and human services.

About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.