Concept & Structure
The Interdisciplinary Center for Neurosciences (IZN) was founded in 2000 as a research network incorporating neuroscientists from all faculties and local research institutions in Heidelberg. Its mission is to enhance brain research, coordinate technology transfer and improve graduate and post-graduate education in the neurosciences. Originally consisting of three “core” institutes, including the Departments of Neurobiology, Neuroanatomy and Clinical Neurobiology, the IZN has been joined by groups from the departments of Physiology and Pathophysiology, Anatomy and Medical Cell Biology, as well as by various other research units both within and external to the University of Heidelberg that collectively formed the IZN’s “ring” structure.
At present, the IZN encompasses all research activities in the neurosciences in the Heidelberg/Mannheim area, providing a forum for scientific exchange at all levels. Our weekly seminar series brings together junior and senior scientists with diverse neuroscience backgrounds. Annual retreats foster extensive communication and planning of common projects and are complemented by regular, informal exchanges between group leaders and the IZN Board of Directors. The IZN facilitates the common usage of specialized equipment and access to resources and supports joint funding schemes such as Sonderforschungsbereiche, Forschergruppen and Graduierten Kollegien. It shapes the future of the local neuroscience community by participating in search committees for new junior and senior scientists as well as by helping to decide upon new directions of research in the University of Heidelberg’s molecular life sciences. The IZN also plays a very active role in the University’s Cluster of Excellence “Cellular Networks: From Molecular Mechanisms to a Quantitative Understanding of Complex Functions” (CellNetworks) and in the research network for the “Quantitative Analysis of Molecular and Cellular Biological Systems” (BIOQUANT).
In 2007, the Directors of the IZN, together with the IZN Scientific Advisory Board, reorganized the structure of the IZN to further improve its presence and impact in the international scientific community. Strategic planning, future coordination, high-profile faculty appointments and establishing new funding initiatives in Heidelberg and Mannheim all require the active participation of a broad and diverse group of neuroscientists extending beyond traditional institutional boundaries. To this end, a new Board of Directors was selected, representing most of the institutions and faculties that participate in the IZN.
These Institutions are: the University of Heidelberg, the University Hospital, the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, the DKFZ and the Central Institute of Mental Health (ZI) in Mannheim. Additionally, the distinction between members of the IZN’s “core” and “ring” structures has been abolished in favor of a minimal hierarchy currently comprised of 59 “IZN Investigators” selected on the basis of their scientific merits.
Such organizational modifications acknowledge two recent developments in the neurosciences. First, conceptual and methodological innovations have meant that the border between molecular and cellular neurosciences on one hand and behavioral/systems neurosciences on the other, is becoming progressively more permeable. Secondly, translational neurosciences are becoming more significant and powerful insofar as investigators are increasingly able to transfer knowledge from the basic neurosciences into clinical contexts. The IZN is actively involved in both of these promising advancements. Prominent examples of this involvement include the Collaborative Research Center “SFB 636” in which clinical and basic scientists are jointly investigating the phenomena of learning and memory in the context of psychopathological processes. The SFB 636 has also initiated a graduate school for translational neurosciences, which will foster cooperative research and interaction between clinical and basic neuroscientists. While Heidelberg has traditionally been regarded as a leading center in molecular and cellular biology, the IZN now includes several groups working on animal models, in vivo recording and imaging, and behavioral testing. This systems-based approach has already been expanded to include new groups from the ZI in Mannheim and will be further improved by the creation of a new research group for behavioral/systems neuroscience.
In summary, the IZN has extended its scope of enquiry while simultaneously improving its capacity to conduct research in particular behavioral/systems and translational neurosciences. Its new structure is efficient as well as modern and will assist both junior and senior investigators in the Heidelberg/Mannheim area in addressing future challenges in the neurosciences.