Leading neuroscientist to lead human brain imaging research program at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
September 20, 2010
Leading brain researcher P. Read Montague will join the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute on Nov. 15, announced institute director Michael Friedlander.
Montague will be a senior professor and will lead programs in human neuroimaging and the new field of computational psychiatry at the research institute. He will be a professor of physics with an affiliation with the School of Biomedical Engineering and Science at Virginia Tech.
Montague is currently the Brown Foundation Professor of Neuroscience and professor of psychiatry in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, where he founded the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit, the first of its kind in the world. He is also an honorary professor at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London and was a member of the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study of Princeton, N.J., in 2005-06.
"The relocation of Dr. Montague and his research team and programs to the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute is a major event in world neuroscience," said Friedlander. "Professor Montague has absolutely revolutionized our ability to measure the function of the brain of conscious humans in a series of conditions that have heretofore been beyond our reach."
Montague is organizing and will lead the Roanoke Brain Study, a cradle-to-grave effort at understanding the neural basis of human decision-making and its impact on health. Overall, he says he plans to integrate human neuroimaging research between the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and Virginia Tech.
"I am excited about the opportunities offered by the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and collaborations with the university, Carilion, and the community," said Montague. "My ambition is that the Roanoke Brain Study be the brain equivalent of the Framingham heart study – the 60-year long study hat has given us so much information about life style, medication, and heart health. The same thing has never been done with brain health, in particular for decision making – the decisions you make about what you eat, life-style, who you associate with, risks … have never been chronicled before. Roanoke is a good-sized place for that. It is big enough for diversity in brains and small enough for committed community engagement."
Montague will develop human neuroimaging studies of decision-making and social cognition throughout the lifespan under normal conditions and in a wide variety of neuropsychiatric disorders in children and adults.
"This work, coupled with his computational analysis and ingenious approaches to experimental design to distill complex functions, such as decision-making and trust, to measurable parameters is revolutionizing psychiatry for children and adults," said Friedlander. "The insights we are gaining into the basic components of human behavior in a social context will inform medicine, education, and policy with data."
Montague is a pioneer in the integration of theoretical and computational approaches with experimental neurobiological approaches to the study of how information is processed within the central nervous system. He has applied his command of mathematics and computational modeling to derive novel insights to understanding how individual nerve cells within the brain and networks of neurons within the brain are able to compute the value of rewards and make decisions that result in cognition and behavior in the normal brain and in a variety of disorders.
"Dr. Montague’s approach has led to important new insights into how we interpret and value decisions and acts by others, plan for the future, and interact," said Friedlander. "Deficiencies in these processes in the human brain manifest in such conditions as autism spectrum disorder, personality disorders, and addiction and substance abuse. This work has been widely recognized by the scientific and medical communities as providing some of the most significant new insights into mechanisms of human brain dysfunction in a variety of diseases."
He has invented a new way to functionally image multiple human brains as the individuals interact behaviorally while evaluating their social cognition. This approach allows for the functional linkage of brain scanners between local sites and throughout the U.S. and the world. "Roanoke will be the hub for this international effort," said Montague.
"Such technological innovation affords neuroscientists the ability to precisely measure the microscopic changes in human brain activity and the influence of one brain on another while people are engaging in a variety of behavioral interactions including establishing trust, cooperating, or competing. It is this capacity that has added a whole new dimension to the toolbox to evaluate how the human brain processes information about others and makes decisions – major components of human behavior that are targeted by neuropsychiatric disorders," said Friedlander. "Montague’s development of this approach is giving scientists new opportunities and potential targets for development of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for early diagnosis of psychiatric disease in a precise way."
Montague’s research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and several private research foundations. He has active research collaborations with other leading neuroscientists in the U.S. and at universities in Hong Kong, Seoul, South Korea, and Germany. The results of his research have been published in the world’s leading scientific and medical journals including Science and Nature Neuroscience, and he is the author of Your Brain is (Almost) Perfect: How We Make Decisions, (Plume, 2007).
"We are very fortunate to have Dr. Montague joining our research programs," said Friedlander. "His presence will add mightily to research discoveries and the overall scientific enterprise at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, as well as to Virginia Tech and Carilion Health System, and will send a strong message to the scientific and medical communities that the Roanoke and New River Valleys are major international sites in neuroscience research."
Montague did his undergraduate work in mathematics and his Ph.D. in biophysics at Auburn University and University of Alabama at Birmingham, respectively. He then served as an Institute Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology at the Rockefeller University in New York in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman, followed by serving as a fellow and staff scientist in the computational neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, Calif. Montague then joined the neuroscience faculty at Baylor College of Medicine.