Max Planck Neuroscientists Bring Expertise to Latin American Training Program
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Two Max Planck neuroscientists recently participated in the Society for Neuroscience’s (SfN) Latin American Training Program (LATP) – a unique educational opportunity for Latin American and Caribbean students to learn from some of the best and brightest neuroscientists across the globe.
Dr. James Schummers, a research group leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) in Jupiter, and Dr. Marcel Oberlaender, a visiting scientist from Germany’s Max Planck Society, participated in the 2015 program. LATP has become a key training and recruitment tool in cultivating the next generation of neuroscientists.
“These are the kinds of interactions that put MPFI on the map in Latin America,” said Dr. Schummers. “Training courses like this one focus on these highly motived young people and look for opportunities where we can build global connections and collaborations. The most successful Latin American scientists do their postdocs abroad, and it is important for them to be aware of the opportunities here in Florida.”
Along with SfN, the Grass Foundation, the Latin American Regional Committee of the International Brain Research Organization, and La Universidad Nacional Autónoma (UNAM) de México provided educational support to students and scientists during the program. Through a series of interactive webinars, recorded lectures and virtual discussions, students not only learn from the scientists’ research in a variety of fields, but also build valuable mentoring relationships due to the program’s small student to professor ratio.
In addition to the online portion of the training program, fifteen top candidates were selected from LATP as fellows and invited to attend a special, hands-on course at The Institute of Neurobiology at UNAM in Querétaro, México. The three-week August course focused on a variety of fundamental imaging aspects and exposed the fellows to many different labs and their research, helping them gain a better understanding of the structural, functional, and molecular functions of the brain and how it interacts with other bodily systems in both health and disease. During the week of Dr. Oberlaender’s lectures and labs, the fellows learned how the specialized structures of the brain are defined, organized, and scaled from the regional level to individual cell types within the cortex and ultimately to network structures within the brain.
“The challenge is that excremental strategies and criteria used to define a certain brain region may not translate through these various scales to cell types and connectivity,” said Dr. Oberlaender. “We talked in great detail about the contemporary approaches scientists use to measure these things consistently across all scales at the same time. Our hands-on lab activity provided many of the students with their first opportunity see 3D images of real neurons recorded in a living animal.”
In Dr. Schummers’ labs, the students observed all aspects of surgical preparation and in vivo two-photon laser scanning microscopy through a cranial window. Students were able to see astrocytes deep in brain tissue, much like MPFI scientists do in their labs.
As a top-tier neuroscience research institute, UNAM faces many of the same challenges as MPFI without enjoying the same access to cutting-edge instrumentation. To that end, one of the greatest benefits of this program is highlighting what can be accomplished by collaborating and utilizing the organizations’ shared resources.
“These were some of the more eager and excited students I have encountered,” Dr. Schummers said. “They come from diverse backgrounds – both geographically and scientifically. Some were molecular biologists and others were trained as physicists. However, they were all eager to ask questions about the techniques we were using and how each one could be applied to their research interests.”