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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2014 / 01 

Michael Friedlander to be honored for contributions to neuroscience research, education, and leadership

January 23, 2014

Michael Friedlander
Michael Friedlander

Nearly a decade after leaving the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Michael Friedlander will be honored by the university’s undergraduate neuroscience society.

Friedlander, founding executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, will receive the First Annual Undergraduate Neuroscience Society Distinguished Scholar Award of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He will accept the award on Feb. 13 in Birmingham, where he will present the inaugural award lecture to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.

The award caps 25 years of Friedlander’s achievements at the university. In addition to serving as the first endowed Evelyn McKnight Neuroscience Professor of Memory in Aging, Friedlander founded the university’s Neurobiology Research Center, Department of Neurobiology, and Neurobiology Graduate Program.

Also at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Friedlander developed cross-campus neuroscience initiatives in education and research. As director of the university’s Civitan International Research Center, he coordinated intellectual disability programs that spanned the entire university and engaged the Birmingham community.

Friedlander also contributed to the development of undergraduate initiatives in neuroscience, including classes that he directed and taught on the evolution of the vertebrate brain and the mind-brain interface. He co-developed the university’s undergraduate Summer Program in Neuroscience (SPIN), which received National Science Foundation support to provide intensive research opportunities and classes for undergraduates from across the United States.

In addition, Friedlander served as a research mentor to many undergraduates, several of whom have launched notable careers in academic neuroscience, medicine, and business. He cites two in particular. Neel Varshney, who did research under Friedlander’s mentorship, went on to attend Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, earn his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Soros Fellow, and become vice president at a major health-care–focused private firm. Jason Lott, who also worked in Friedlander’s laboratory, attended Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship, earned his medical degree and master’s of science in health policy as a Gamble Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and is now a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the Yale School of Medicine.

“I am greatly honored to receive this award, especially from the undergraduate neuroscience students at UAB,” Friedlander said. “Working with such talented and dedicated students has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’m particularly proud of how many of them have not only excelled in academia and research, but are also having a substantial impact on the world’s health through policy, service, and business innovation.”

In 2005, Friedlander continued his leadership in neuroscience when he joined Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. There he served as chair of neuroscience and director of neuroscience initiatives. He also led a neuroscience training program supported by the National Institutes of Health and directed courses that included Baylor graduate students and Rice University undergraduates.

Friedlander’s commitment to education and training on all levels has continued at Virginia Tech as well. At the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute since 2010, he has initiated a special fellowship program for graduate students and provided opportunities for Virginia Tech undergraduates to gain research experience at the institute. As senior dean for research at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, he oversees the school’s research curriculum. And as a professor of biological studies and of biomedical engineering and sciences, Friedlander presents lectures to undergraduates in biochemistry, biological sciences, and biomedical engineering.

Virgina Tech’s associate provost for health sciences since 2013, Friedlander recently led the development of the new university-wide program in Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health, which he now co-directs with Audra Van Wart. The program, targeted to doctoral students, will also provide undergraduates with opportunities to enrich their studies and research in several health-related focus areas, including neuroscience. Friedlander is now working closely with faculty across multiple College of Science departments and the Academy of Integrated Science to help develop the university’s new undergraduate neuroscience program.

“It’s been my honor and pleasure to play a role in the development of neuroscience programs at UAB, Baylor College of Medicine, and most recently Virginia Tech,” Friedlander said. “To be able to have a positive influence on the careers and lives of bright, energetic students has been gratifying, particularly in such a highly interdisciplinary field as neuroscience.”

Friedlander said he remains committed to contributing to the growth of neuroscience at Virginia Tech, and he sees a bright future for undergraduate and graduate students who choose to study at the university.

“Virginia Tech has outstanding faculty and students across many fields that are key to modern neuroscience,” Friedlander said. “The university’s culture of innovation will help students make major contributions and become leaders in the rapidly evolving field of neuroscience.”