The Precision Neuroscience Conference’s roster of internationally prominent keynote speakers now includes Josh Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and Read Montague, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s VTC Vernon Mountcastle Research Professor.

Gordon and Montague will join two other highly regarded keynotes, Carol Mason, a member of the National Academy of Sciences who studies how visual circuits form, and Jan Hoeijmakers, a molecular geneticist who was among the first to discover how aging is accelerated when DNA repair systems fail.

“Dr. Gordon and Dr. Montague are true innovators who will bring a wealth of knowledge in emerging approaches and analytical tools to address mental illness and provide new insights into the normative physiology of the human brain, respectively, to the conference,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “We are fortunate to be able to have neuroscientists of this caliber speak at our conference in Roanoke this year and expect to learn a great deal from all of our presenters to advance the field of precision neuroscience in health and disease.” 

Slated for the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center from May 20 to May 22, the Precision Neuroscience Conference will feature talks by 30 accomplished scientists and physicians from across the world.

At NIMH, one of the institutes at the National Institutes of Health, Gordon oversees a $2 billion annual and an extensive research portfolio that aims to improve prevention, recovery methods, and treatments for individuals experiencing mental illness. Prior to joining NIMH, Gordon was an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, where he also served as director of neuroscience education. At Columbia, he studied how genetic mutations led to behavior changes in laboratory animal models while also maintaining a general psychiatric practice, caring for patients who suffered from the illnesses he studied in the laboratory. He also served as a mentor for psychiatry residents in his capacity as the associate director of the Columbia University New York State Psychiatric Institute Adult Psychiatry Residency Program.

During his own psychiatry residency and research fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, he began his landmark studies on how synchronized brain activity influences behavior, psychiatric disorders, and spatial working memory. He defined how connections linking the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex continuously update task-related spatial information, allowing people to temporarily record information about their environment and spatial orientation. This fundamental work led Gordon and his team to develop a deep understanding of innate anxiety, and how specific inputs activate areas of the prefrontal cortex involved in behavior. From there, he defined – at a micro-circuit level – how dysfunction in a specific cell type, somatostatin positive interneurons, may contribute to the cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia by disrupting long-range signaling synchronization between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

Montague, director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s Center for Human Neuroscience Research, oversees the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, the Computational Psychiatry Unit, and one of the first deployments of a new brain analysis technique called optically pumped magnetometry. Using a mobile, room-temperature, light-weight magnetoencephalography device, Montague and his team can study human brain activity during natural behaviors. Unlike other brain scanning methods, like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), this new technique allows research participants to move.

Montague is most recognized for his pioneering work in understanding how the brain computes differences between an anticipated reward value and the actual reward, a phenomenon known as the reward prediction error process. He has also developed new ways to measure the release of chemical neuromodulators in awake humans during neurosurgery procedures, and hyperscanning, a technique that simultaneously examines brain activity using fMRI in multiple people as they interact. 

Formerly known as the Virginia-Nordic Precision Neuroscience Conference, the gathering was last hosted by the University of Oslo, Sunnaas Rehabilitation Hospital, and Oslo University Hospital in Oslo, Norway in 2018. This progressive partnership between Virginia and Nordic universities represents an international collaboration. Through the Precision Neuroscience Conference, Virginia Tech and its Nordic academic partners can together explore the promise, limitations, and innovations of precision neuroscience to advance the field.

Registration for the 2020 Precision Neuroscience Conference is available online, and the organizers are accepting poster abstract submissions until April 1, 2020. For more information about the conference, visit www.precisionneuroscience.org.