The UCLA Brain Research Institute (BRI) was founded in 1959 by Drs. John French, Horace Magoun, Donald Lindsley and Charles Sawyer with the purpose of creating a central body responsible for promoting neuroscience as a distinctive, inherently interdisciplinary research endeavor.
The first space dedicated to the BRI, a wing of the new Center for Health Studies, would not officially open its doors until October 1961. Despite this, however, UCLA had already emerged as a national leader in neuroscience research with a strong faculty nucleus in cellular neurobiology. This was the result of close to a decade during which institute co-founder Magoun arrived at UCLA to head the department of anatomy. His organizational efforts and research partnerships with other departments attracted prominent new faculty such as Arnold Scheibel and Carmine Clemente who would become central figures in BRI leadership in decades to come. Throughout the 1950s, these core faculty were instrumental in attracting a rapidly growing interdisciplinary group of neuroscientists, students and an increasing number of visiting scientists from all over the world.
The first building dedicated to the BRI brought down physical barriers to interdisciplinary collaborations by placing the departments of anatomy, biophysics and nuclear medicine, infectious diseases, neurology, neurosurgery, pathology, pediatrics, pharmacology, physiology chemistry, physiology, psychiatry, psychology and zoology together. At the time, the L-shaped structure formed a bridge between the medical school and the Neuropsychiatric Institute. To this day, the Brain Research Institute remains an intellectual bridge between UCLA basic sciences and the clinical work of the medical school.
The expansion of the BRI is reflective of the growth of neuroscience as a now dominant underpinning of scientific disciplines today. In 1961, the BRI had 67 members. Thirty years later, with 162 members it became clear that the BRI had outgrown its original space. Thanks to an unprecedented gift from the Goldschmied family, the Gonda (Goldschmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center was constructed and in 1998 became the new home of the BRI and UCLA’s department of human genetics. It features an array of cutting-edge research technology, innovative laboratory design and facilities that enhance collegial and professional interactions among scientists.
At present, the Brain Research Institute has almost 300 members. In 2016 these faculty published over 1000 research papers in a wide-ranging series of eminent journals. Its educational mission also continues to grow, and currently encompasses over 250 postdoctoral students populating faculty labs, 80 doctoral students, and over 700 undergraduate neuroscience majors.
In 2018, the BRI continues to be a magnet for some of the best neuroscience researchers in the world. It remains a powerful incubator of basic and medical science research endeavors leading to a deeper understanding of the human brain and clinical strategies that will become viable treatments for diseases and disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia and addiction.