Patrick Drew named associate director of Penn State’s Institute of the Neurosciences

Drew succeeds David Vandenbergh in an important role promoting Neuroscience research and education at University Park.

Patrick Drew

Patrick Drew, Huck distinguished associate professor of neural engineering and neurosurgery, has been appointed associate director of the Institute of the Neurosciences at Penn State. Drew has a joint appointment between the Departments of Engineering Science and Mechanics and Neurosurgery, and a courtesy appointment in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He has been involved with Penn State‘s neuroscience community since 2010.

“Patrick is a real innovator,” said Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. “His work really exemplifies the kind of transdisciplinary thinking that defines the Huck’s approach to research. Through his work with anthropologists, mechanical engineers, and even earth and mineral scientists, Patrick is exploring some very interesting questions in truly novel ways.”

Drew’s research focuses on how the brain controls the network of blood vessels that supply neurons with oxygen and nutrients, which he terms the brain’s “infrastructure.” His lab is currently investigating how air pollution in the form of fine, sooty particles might be linked to neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. His team observes the movement of cerebrospinal fluid, the liquid that flows around the brain and spinal cord, and can pass into the nasal cavity. Drew feels Penn State is unique in terms of the breadth of disciplines that can be brought to bear collaboratively on such a line of inquiry.

“I think that a unique aspect of Penn State’s neuroscience portfolio is the large number of researchers coming from an engineering or physical science background,” he said. “Going forward, I would really like to bring better integration and interactions between these researchers and those coming from biological and psychologically-focused areas.”

One key to the success of such collaborations, Drew believes, is aligning new technological invention with the most promising set of life science questions.

“In the past decade, there has been a realization that technical innovations and quantitative approaches are really valuable in neuroscience,” he said, “as evidenced by the BRAIN Initiative.”

Disease vector neuroscience is one area where Drew believes Penn State could play a leading role. Investigating new ways to disrupt the neurological systems of pests – the way DEET does – could have a very significant impact on disease-control efforts.

“This kind of research isn’t going to happen in med school,” Drew noted.

“Neuroscience has become a rapidly growing part of biomedical research,” said David Vandenbergh, the outgoing associate director of the Institute of the Neurosciences. “In part from new techniques, which allow neuroscientists to branch out into aspects of human behavior that could not be tested before. I think Patrick is in a great position to promote incorporation of neuroscience techniques into many areas that are strengths at Penn State.”

The Institute of the Neurosciences brings together researchers from University Park and the Penn State Hershey Medical School.

“I look forward to working with Patrick to advance cross-campus collaboration in the neurosciences,” said Krish Sathian, director of the Institute, professor and chair of neurology, professor of neural and behavioral sciences and professor of psychology. “The existence of the Institute as a multi-campus entity offers tremendous opportunity to leverage strengths at the UP and Hershey campuses and foster synergistic interactions that benefit faculty, trainees and students on either campus, as well as translational research that can eventually improve the lives of people.”

“Right now we have several successful Hershey-UP collaborations,” Drew said, “and I would like to help empower our faculty to establish more collaborations. I think that the strength of the Huck Institutes is that it provides the ’scaffolding’ to support these cross-disciplinary collaborations and allow them to blossom,” he added.

“From my own experience, I have found that some really cool projects can result when people with very different skill sets and world-views come together to work on a problem.”

Drew received a B.S., Biology, California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D, in Neuroscience from Brandeis University.