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Sixty neuroscience researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) could be leaving for the University of Utah because of a newly passed state initiative, according to an administrator at the state university.
“While I’m fairly certain that the researchers are strongly considering moving, I’m sure that Harvard will provide some kind of counter-offer,” University of Utah Vice President for Technology Venture Development and Dean of the David Eccles School of Business Jack Brittain said. “That’s the way it works in academics.”
The Utah Science, Technology and Research Economic Development Initiative (USTAR) grants around $200 million for research facilities at two state universities. The plan could potentially lure teams of high-tech researchers to Utah State University and the University of Utah in the hopes of creating spin-off businesses and high paying jobs, The Deseret Morning News reported last week.
Increased funding was a major factor in recruiting scientists, but the school provides other potential benefits, according to Brittain.
“The key thing that we have that would help their research is the Utah Population Database,” Brittain said.
The Utah Population Database is a centralized resource that allows scientists to access genetic information of around seven million people.
“Since these researchers are working with genealogy and phenotypic research, the database would provide unique information that they wouldn’t be able access anywhere else,” Brittain said.
Sixty neuroscience researchers, who comprise four research groups, are studying the link between depression tendencies and genetics using brain imaging technology, according to Brittain.
Brittain declined to disclose the names of the researchers since negotiations are still underway.
But Harvard professors said they knew very little about the possible outflow of scientists.
Even before the USTAR bill was passed last week, HMS Professor of Neurobiology David Corey said he was skeptical.
“The whole thing seems to be pretty conditional,” Corey said. “In my opinion, there may be a group of neuroscience researchers that are considering leaving, and perhaps another fifty that the University is thinking about hiring. It seems unlikely that there would be sixty researchers leaving.”
Other administrators at the University of Utah said they were unsure how the new research teams would fit in the current research infrastructure.
“It seems to be that an entirely new department is getting built with the initiative, so I’m not quite sure what the connection to the existing neurobiology department would eventually be,” said Kay Buskirk, executive secretary of the neurobiology and anatomy department at the University of Utah.
—Staff writer Anupriya Singhal can be reached at email@example.com.
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