Two leading researchers join URI’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience

Addition of William Van Nostrand, John Robinson boosts research muscle of URI and Ryan Institute.

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William Van Nostrand
Professor William Van Nostrand (Photo by Nora Lewis)

KINGSTON, R.I., July 6, 2017 —Two scientists who collaborate on groundbreaking approaches to neurodegenerative disease are relocating to the University of Rhode Island from Stony Brook University in New York. Individually and as a team, William Van Nostrand and John Robinson have made significant discoveries that advance the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions caused by damage to and destruction of brain cells.

“Bringing these two top-notch scientists to the Ryan Institute is a coup for URI,” said Paula Grammas, executive director of the Ryan Institute. “Bill and John bring decades-long records of innovative and productive research that meshes well with the mission of the Institute, and we are excited to welcome them as colleagues to our faculty and mentors to our students.”

Van Nostrand will join the faculty this summer as professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical science and Herrmann Professor of Neuroscience. He is a professor of neurosurgery at Stony Brook University, where he has been on the faculty since 1995.

He was the first to purify and characterize amyloid precursor protein, the progenitor of the amyloid-beta (A-beta) protein. A-beta clumps into plaques in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s disease patients, and may contribute to the brain cell death that causes the memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia associated with the disease. Van Nostrand’s research focuses on understanding causes abnormal accumulation of the A-beta protein found in Alzheimer’s disease and a related condition called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).

“Understanding how the various forms of amyloid operate and interact in CAA and Alzheimer’s disease is a path to better understanding both diseases. Our goal is ultimately to identify mechanisms of disease that could be targets for new treatments,” Van Nostrand said.

John Robinson
Professor John Robinson  (Photo by Glenn Hudson)

Robinson will arrive in early 2018. He has been on the Stony Brook faculty since 1994, most recently as professor of psychology. At URI he will be professor of psychology and Ryan Research Professor of Neuroscience.

He has studied the cognitive and behavioral effects of abnormal A-beta in animal models of disease developed in Van Nostrand’s lab. Their collaboration has revealed, for instance, that the A-beta accumulations around blood vessels seen in animal models of CAA are associated with an earlier decline in brain function compared to Alzheimer’s-like A-beta clumps near brain cells.

Robinson has also worked on studies related to learning, depression, dementia caused by alcoholism and the impact of exercise in reducing the onset and severity of neurologic diseases. At URI, Robinson will help set up and manage a new center for behavioral studies. “I have enjoyed tremendously the interactions with numerous colleagues over the years and I look forward to meeting and working with my new colleagues at URI similarly,” he said.

Why URI?

Moving an established research enterprise from one university to another is a complicated undertaking, but Robinson and Van Nostrand see clear reasons to join the Ryan Institute and URI.

“Everyone I spoke to saw this as an exciting time for URI—a turning point,” Robinson said. “The optimism about and enthusiasm for neuroscience and health-and-wellness research here builds on existing strengths and the clear path of the Ryan Institute to be a highly visible catalyst of this movement as well.”

Van Nostrand said, “I am excited about the mission of the Ryan Institute, the passion and support of Tom Ryan to build this institute, and the support from President Dooley and Provost DeHayes on down through the deans and faculty. It is clear that the mission here is to build a premier neuroscience institute with a focus on neurodegenerative diseases. I saw this as a unique and exciting opportunity to get in on the early stages of the Institute being formed and play a strong part in its foundation and growth.”

As further evidence of the opportunities available at URI, Van Nostrand’s full-time lab staff is moving with him, including three researchers, a postdoctoral fellow and a graduate student. Van Nostrand and Robinson’s work has been consistently funded by federal and private agencies, and they will transfer about $4.1 million in grant funding to URI.

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