Bill Flynn doesn’t remember every professor from his college days. But he’ll never forget the one who helped make him what he is today.
The leader of the University of Wyoming’s robust neuroscience program hopes he has the same impact on the students who share his laboratory to study the workings of the human brain.
“When I was an undergraduate, I had a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder who just instilled this excitement in me,” says Flynn, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology who joined the UW faculty in 1986 and director of the university’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) Neuroscience Center. “I even had the opportunity to work in his laboratory, and that just seemed to reinforce my interests.
Years after Dr. Philip Groves helped lay the groundwork for Flynn’s career as a neuroscientist, the UW professor has established himself among the nation’s finest in his field. Flynn’s research has been funded, remarkably, for the past 28 years by the NIH, with his reputation playing an integral role in the NIH’s decision to financially support UW’s neuroscience research efforts in 2000, 2006 and again in 2011.
With Flynn in front of the charge, UW has grown its 30-year-old graduate Neuroscience Program to include 16 students annually, bolstered interdisciplinary relationships across campus and strengthened its commitment to neuroscience research through the hiring of new faculty and the addition of supplemental instrumentation.
The expansion of UW’s Microscopy Facility—President Tom Buchanan has been one of its strongest advocates dating to his days as a vice president—has been especially critical. The facility’s newest instrumentation allows UW neuroscience investigators to better identify the structural bases that occur in neurons and their synapses in response to a variety of physiological events, development and several neurodegenerative diseases.
“Every five years when we seek to renew our funding, the NIH expects us to document institutional support as well as strong research progress. We’ve done exceedingly well in each review criteria,” Flynn says. “There’s just a good marriage between the funding we can provide through the NIH grants and what the institution provides to us. We could have significant research funding but if there’s no support from the administration, we’d simply be wasting the funding.”
In addition to facilitating cutting-edge research, the UW Neuroscience Center sponsors an annual lecture series that attracts key international researchers who share their expertise about brain function and disease with citizens around the state. It’s like Groves taught Flynn all those years ago: Neuroscience affects everybody’s life.
“All you have to do is ask yourself, ‘Is anybody in my family suffering from Alzheimer’s, from hypertension, from depression, from schizophrenia?’ I would expect everybody could identify a friend or family member with some sort of neurological, brain-related disorder,” says Flynn. “Our goal in neuroscience is to understand how and why that occurs and to try to correct it. We’re going to keep working until we do.”
To learn more, visit uwyo.edu/profiles/faculty-staff/bill-flynn-nih-grant.html