January 21, 2009 — John A. White, Ph.D., a University of Utah biomedical engineering professor who studies how the human brain processes information, has been selected as the new executive director of the U of U Brain Institute.
White joined the University in 2007 as part of the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) Economic Development Initiative and is a Brain Institute investigator. He succeeds Thomas N. Parks, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and anatomy, who last year was appointed University vice president for research. White’s broad background and research in the neurosciences, administrative experience, strong connections with neuroscientists across campus, and his vision and ideas for building the University’s neurosciences research program made him the top candidate for the job, according to Parks.
“Dr. White brings to the job an active research scientist’s perspective, new ideas on how the Brain Institute can serve its members, and strong leadership,” said Parks, who served on the selection committee. “He will be an effective leader.”
White uses an engineering approach with an array of methods to research how the brain processes information, including computational modeling of the neuronal networks that send and receive electrochemical signals in the brain, designing and constructing customized instruments that interact in real time with human subjects and biological preparations, and electrophysiological and optical techniques for recording detailed information from single neurons and large neuronal networks.
Being asked to lead the Brain Institute is a great honor, White said. “Tom Parks did a superb job assembling the staff, defining the major themes, and mobilizing the scientific teams. Working with the staff and faculty, I hope to build upon Tom’s efforts, particularly in catalyzing new collaborative efforts on big problems in neuroscience and neural engineering,” he said. “I’ve very excited about the unique opportunities we have to translate basic discoveries into much-needed advances in care for neurological patients.”
As a USTAR professor, White has a major goal of moving his ideas and devices from the laboratory to the marketplace. USTAR was established by the Legislature in 2006 to encourage academic researchers such as White to commercialize technology and ideas for the creation of Utah companies and jobs for economic development. The University has its own USTAR center with world-class researchers in areas ranging from the neurosciences and imaging technology to biomedical engineering and nano-technology.
Before coming to Utah, White spent 13 years on the biomedical engineering faculty at Boston University, where he was professor and interim chair. He has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and has been the principal or co-principal investigator on grants totaling more than $40 million.
White is a member of the College of Fellows for the American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering and is a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society.
The University of Utah Brain Institute was established in 2005 to be a coordinating center for neuroscience research in Utah. It’s made up of more than 140 investigators at four universities and a core staff that helps facilitate collaboration among researchers. Brain Institute investigators are working to discover, develop, and deliver new treatments for a host of brain disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.