Council of Advisors
RIKEN Brain Sciences Institute
April 4-6, 2001


The year 2001 will be remembered as a landmark in the history of medical and biological research, because it was during this year that the first draft of the sequence of the human genome became available. This magnificent achievement will change forever the way we are carrying out research targeted towards learning about human biology and preventing and curing diseases that affect us all. Nowhere will the beneficial impact of the genome project be felt more strongly than in neuroscience research. Understanding the genetic makeup of cells in the developing and adult nervous system and relating that genetic information to neural networks that underlie brain function will no doubt lead us closer to understanding the many brain diseases that today are incurable. Japan's investment in 1997 in establishing the RIKEN Brain Sciences Institute (BSI) was both innovative and timely. Through BSI, Japan is well poised to become a world leader in brain science at a time when major advances are sure to come. The Council of Advisors of BSI again congratulates the Japanese authorities on their insight in creating BSI and is pleased to submit the following report on BSI's progress. Our conclusions and recommendations are based upon our visit to RIKEN on April 4-6, 2001.

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The Council's visit was built around the format that was established over the past year. Briefly, the visit began with a presentation by Dr. Masao Ito, who reviewed for the Council many of BSI's activities. He highlighted changes and progress that have occurred at BSI since last year and summarized BSI's responses to the Council's previous recommendations. Following Dr. Ito's presentation, a number of group Directors summarized the activities of their research groups, and one member from each group gave a short (15-25 minute) presentation of work from his/her own laboratory. All presentations were open to questions from Council members. Following the presentations, Council members were invited to tour the laboratory facilities and to meet individually with BSI scientists for further discussions. As with last year's experience, this format provided the Council an opportunity to assess in a brief period of time overall Institute operations as well as the scientific activities of many of its constituent units.

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The general impression of the Council was of the overall excellence of BSI. In particular, we strongly support the key concepts of interdisciplinarity, internationality, and support for young people that Dr.Ito has sought to embody in BSI. The Council also congratulates Dr. Ito and the Institute's scientists for vigorously implementing the Council's recommendations. These include:

  1. Considering establishing a limited number of long-term faculty appointments to ensure the employment of the most successful RIKEN scientists.

  2. Establishing a strategic space allocation policy

  3. Devising BSI policies for animal and human experimentation and restructuring the BSI Internal Review Board.

  4. Including external members on the Internal Review Board and animal experimental committees. The Council truly appreciates the speed with which this change was made.

  5. Developing ways to attract more graduate students.

  6. Increasing the number and improving the availability of secretarial staff for scientists.

  7. Strengthening English competence among the staff and scientists.

  8. Increase funding to attract and support foreigners.

  9. Increasing links with RIKEN's other centers and institutes, including those in genomics and bioinformatics.

  10. Establishing a resources section distinct from the ATDC research groups.

Institute scientists are also continuing to advance policies to attract new scientists, disperse resources judiciously, and devise policies to enhance the Institute's effectiveness. The Council was delighted to see the completed new laboratory facilities. The laboratories and offices are large, well lighted, beautifully designed and well constructed. BSI's work environment seems ideal, and is regarded as so by most of the BSI scientists we met.

The Council was pleased to see that the assets described in last year's report not only remain in place, but are being further enhanced as the careers of the young scientists hired to BSI develop and mature. These scientists continue to collaborate with one another within and outside their own research groups, and their interactions appear to be friendly and mutually supportive, not competitive. The scientists speak highly of the Institute and its leadership, and they recognize and appreciate the unique opportunity and freedom they have to pursue without interruption their individual curiosity driven research interests. The Council was also pleased to witness the openness of Dr. Ito to constructive suggestions made by Institute scientists.

Traditions set by the founders early in the formation of an organization tend to remain with the organization throughout its history. In that regard, the Council sees as extremely healthy the values that are developing at BSI: high standards and expectations for research excellence, a desire to be recognized as a major international center for neuroscience, transparency in Institute operations, faculty involvement in decision making, and mutual respect between senior and junior faculty.

BSI will also encounter the problems experienced by many academic and research organizations as it matures and develops. How the Institute deals with these problems will say much to outside observers and internal employees about its character. The Council congratulates the Institute on its response to two important problems that arose during this past year:

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Departure of faculty:

A senior faculty member was recruited to a professorship at the University of Tokyo, which is one of Japan's most prestigious universities. Attempts to recruit BSI faculty to other organizations is to be expected by an institution in which the quality of science is high, as at BSI. BSI moved quickly and appropriately to replace this leader with an excellent young scientist already at BSI, thereby demonstrating a willingness to consider high
quality people from within as well from outside the Institute. A new head will be sought for the Laboratory of Neuronal Recognition, although the focus of that laboratory will undoubtedly change.

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External Reviews:

BSI also acted decisively and appropriately in replacing a team leader, as recommended by an external review team assembled to evaluate the Neuronal Function Research Group. Although difficult, such decisions are necessary
for the health of the organization.

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The Committee sees many strengths, but it also sees areas in need of attention. These include:
  1. Senior leadership: Three of the groups are currently without leader. We believe that this shortage of senior leadership is a matter of serious concern for BSI and urge that efforts to identify and hire qualified senior individuals for these positions be given highest priority. We support Dr. Ito's efforts to identify and hire qualified senior individuals for these positions.

  2. Appointments: As BSI approaches maturity, each new appointment becomes more precious, and the necessity of maintaining the highest standards of appointment ever more important. We encourage the Institute to maintain its high standards even to the point of not making an appointment if the highest quality candidates are not immediately available.

  3. Collaborations: We support the collaborations that exist within and between research groups at the BSI and urge the administration to continue to encourage such interactions, including postdoctoral appointments between laboratories. We would especially welcome seeing more collaborative efforts between the groups doing computational and experimental neuroscience. As we have urged in the past, by combining theory and experimental science, RIKEN BSI should seize the opportunity to take a leadership position in a much-needed combination of two complementary and interdependent aspects of contemporary neuroscience. Our impression is that the theoretical laboratories are somewhat isolated from the rest of the Institute and thus would welcome more collaborative efforts. Willingness to carry out interdisciplinary science should be considered as a hiring criterion when evaluating candidates for future faculty positions. We are pleased to see that some recent appointments have met these criteria.

  4. RIKEN and MIT: The Council was disappointed that representatives from the MIT program were unable to attend the review. We applaud the quality of the recent appointments at MIT and hope that efforts will be made to increase interactions between the MIT and Tokyo groups.

  5. Attracting foreign scientists: The Council strongly supports BSI's ambitions to attract an international group of scientists. Although there has been some success in realizing this goal, formidable difficulties remain. BSI needs to better provide for the needs of foreign scientists. Although laboratory heads and their secretaries have been helpful, BSI is encouraged to set up a central office to help foreign scientists so that individual scientists and groups are not distracted from their focus on discovery. This office should be able to handle visa problems, obtain forms, prepare a list of English speaking doctors, identify apartments, and help in many other ways to aid in the relocation and settling of scientists and their families. In addition, Japanese language courses should be available at convenient times.

    Riken should also consider subsidizing services for foreign scientists and their families. These subsidies could include tuition assistance for international schools, providing school transportation, and a nursery school for the young children of both Japanese and foreign scientists.

  6. Quality of presentations: Clear and intelligible presentations are important not only for the Council but for the international aspirations of the Institute. The Council was disappointed in the quality of some of the presentations. We encourage individuals to invest sufficient time in preparing presentations. Good presentations require rehearsals before group leaders and peers, and clear and readable slides and graphics in appropriate numbers. Speakers must also adhere to the time constraints.

    While appreciating the efforts of speakers whose native language is not English, the Council feels much is yet to be done for improving communications and presentations in English by BSI scientists. We advise that BSI develop a program for improving oral presentations, writing papers, and documenting research proposals in English.

  7. Cognitive Neuroscience: In the group of cognitive neuroscience, there have been important technical advances in development of both fMRI with a very high spatial resolution and MEG with a high temporal resolution. It was the Council's opinion that these excellent facilities could be used to approach additional biological problems such as perception, attention, memory, and language. Neuropsychological and cognitive expertise should be added, possibly as an additional team. The Council also felt that the two imaging laboratories (fMRI and MEG) should be more strongly coordinated.

  8. Systems Neurophysiology: As BSI fully exploits advances in genomics and proteomics understanding, we encourage the Institute also to pay due attention to system neurophysiology.

  9. Public Relations: The Council applauds BSI's growing efforts to extend its public relations by opening the 'Brain Box' exhibition. We also applaud BSI's efforts to sponsor the yearly series of 'Century of the Brain' symposia for the public, by joining World Brain Awareness Week events in March of 2000 and 2001, as well as Science and Technology week events every April. Generating public support for neuroscience is in the national interest and also a long-term investment for BSI that is certain to pay off.

  10. Technology transfer: We encourage clarification of BSI's policy on technology transfer and intellectual property rights. We also look forward to discussing this issue during next year's Council visit.

  11. Mini-Review:Council suggests that Review policy be altered to allow the possibility for the Director to decide in exceptional circumstances to a mini-review after 3 years to provide evaluation and feedback of a Group.

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We conclude that BSI has been built up with great vigor to a very competitive neuroscience establishment that now goes into a new stage of consolidation, in which the challenges will be different than in the initial phase of the Institute's development. We look forward to working with the leadership of BSI in this new phase.

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RIKEN Brain Science Institute
Advisory Council Members

<Understanding the Brain>

Michel CUENOD (Chairperson)
Professor, Hospital Psychiatrique Universitaire de Cery
Centre de Recherche en Neurosciences Psychiatriquies, Switzerland

Director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College, USA

Chairman, Dept. Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden

Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Graduate School
of Medicine, University of Tokyo

Director-General, National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Okazaki National
Research Institute

Director, Dept. of Neurophysiology, Max-Planck-Institute fuer Hirnforschung,

Tadaharu TSUMOTO
Professor, Dept. of Neurophysiology, Osaka University Medical School

<Protecting the Brain>

Steven E. HYMAN
Director, National Institute of Mental Health, USA

Richard A. MURPHY
President, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies

President, National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry

Professor, Dept. of Neurobiology, School of Medicine, Stanford University,

Professor, Division of Artificial Chromosome Project, Institute for
Comprehensive Medical Science, Fujita Health University

Professor, Molecular Biology and Biomacromolecules, Graduate School of
Medicine, Nagoya University

<Creating the Brain>

Daniel J. AMIT
Professor, Racah Inst. Of Physics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Professor, Institute of Physics, Roma University, Italy

Director, Matto Laboratories for Human Information Systems, Kanazawa
Institute of Technology

Emeritus Professor, Mathematics, King's College London, Director, The
Centre for Neural Networks, U. K

Yoh-ichi TOHKURA
Executive Director, NTT Science and Core Technology Laboratory Group

Michael A. Arbib
Director, USC Brain Project, University of Southern California


Professor, Institute of Molecular Embryology and Genetics, Kumamoto

Zach W. HALL
Vice Chancellor, Research, University of California, San Francisco, USA

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