opportunity to build excellence from the ground floor up motivates
Jonathan Geiger to return to UND
The opportunity to help develop the Center of Excellence in Neuroscience
while continuing his research was “absolutely” a critical
factor in the decision by Jonathan Geiger, Ph.D., to join the
UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
He came on board officially July 1 as chair of the Department
of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics and principal investigator
of the $10.3 million COBRE (Center of Biomedical Research Excellence)
grant, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as the
largest single research grant ever awarded to the School of Medicine
and Health Sciences.
He is returning to his alma mater where he earned his master’s
and doctoral degrees.
“People here are doing work that’s not only important
but also complementary to work we do in our lab” at the
University of Manitoba, which he recently left. “It’s
easy for me to see linkages and synergy between the work on both
campuses,” he said.
Geiger plans to help recruit new faculty members over the next
four years to join the cluster of neuroscientists focusing on
brain research at the medical school. One new recruit is Saobo
Lei, Ph.D., an electrophysiologist from NIH whose work has been
published in the top-rated scientific journals in the world.
Geiger is most eager to jump into a brand-new initiative.
“The research enterprise here is on a very steep incline,”
he noted, “and it’s fun to get in at an early developmental
stage, when you can have an impact and make it even more successful.
The reward will come from seeing current and new faculty become
even more successful, and mentorship by others and me will help
in this regard.”
He is anxious to participate in the medical school’s plans
to “build a critical mass of like-minded neuroscientists,
so the success will be self-perpetuating – and the health
of North Dakotans, and people everywhere, will be better as a
result of the kinds of research that we are doing here.
The brain is very complicated, Geiger said, with its different
“There are different types of neurons in different parts
of the brain, and each connects to thousands of other neurons,”
he explained. Communication between and among nerves is highly
complex, and can occur within the nerve as well as between other
nerves and other types of cells.
Add to that the fact that each part of the brain has different
functions; nerves can “talk” within an area and talk
to other parts of the brain, he said. Further, the brain is not
static: it can learn and change through a process called “neuroplasticity.”
“The brain is not like other organs,” Geiger emphasized.
“If there’s a problem in one part of the brain (from
injury or illness), it can compensate in another part.”
“We know so much more about the brain than we did years
ago,” he continued. “It’s an interesting and
complicated organ.” But also one of the most feared, Geiger
suggests, “because if something goes wrong in the brain
– whether it’s seizures, effects of drug use, dysfunction
– people can be isolated, ostracized, stigmatized.
“So it’s really important to try to figure out how
the brain works, what can go wrong, and how to fix the problems
so that we can help people living with and suffering from various
The whole field of drug addiction is opening up, he adds, noting
that new information has been identified that provides much-needed
“It’s a perfect time to be at UND,” he said.
“Success will help breed other successes.”
Graduate students seeks the "final
frontier" with neuroscience research
Patrick Stevens, a graduate student in UND’s School of
Medicine and Health Sciences, has been fascinated with the field
of neuroscience since he was introduced to it in his undergraduate
studies by Sally Pyle, assistant professor of biology at UND.
This area of research is “the final frontier,” said
the Grand Forks native who is working in the lab of Van Doze,
Ph.D., in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics.
“We know a lot about what goes on in other parts of the
body” but less about “what the brain does physiologically.”
Stevens is studying neurophysiology – the study of how
the different parts of the brain interact – which scientists
believe plays an important role in the understanding of learning
and memory. It’s an area that captured his imagination in
a journal club last semester when many of the papers he was reading
were written by Doze’s colleagues from Stanford University.
“It’s a concept that is really interesting to me,”
he said. So much so that he turned down a better-paying offer
from Oregon State University to accept a spot in Doze’s
lab after completing a bachelor’s degree in biology in May
The son of Lowell and Mary Kay Stevens, longtime Grand Forks
residents who recently moved to Asheville, N.C., he hopes someday
to teach and conduct research as a college professor, but added,
“That’s a long way off.”
This experience “will increase my knowledge base and give
me direction on where I want to go,” he says, and “will
be really important for when I start my own research lab.”
Stevens’ wife Lindsey is working toward a graduate degree
at UND in elementary education.
Does smaller size mean longer life?
These UND research mice appeared on the cover of the scientific
journal Trends in Genetics. Holly Brown-Borg, associate professor
of pharmacology, physiology, and therapeutics, is studying the
genetics of aging. The mice are the same age, one normal (left)
and the other with a dwarf gene. Dwarf mice live 50 to 60 percent
longer than their “normal” counterparts. The obvious
question: Does the dwarf gene affect life span in other mammals,
including humans? The work of Dr. Brown-Borg and her colleagues
at other medical schools, such as Wake Forest, may someday provide
Two devastating diseases that impact this region
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive degenerative disease
that affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States
and Canada. The disease is caused by the death of brain cells
that secrete dopamine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits brain
cells which control movement and other body functions. Symptoms
include tremors, body rigidity, and problems in movement.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disease of the
brain, and the most common form of dementia. It affects about
four million Americans; one in 10 people over 65 and nearly half
of those over 85 have the disease. It is a brain disorder in which
nerve cells in the brain die, making it difficult for the brain’s
signals to be transmitted properly. It affects memory, judgment,
and thinking, diminishing the sufferer’s ability to work
or take part in daily activities.