FAU Receives Grant from Community Foundation of Broward


More than 3 million adults across Florida have mental health conditions, including veterans suffering from PTSD. Those who commit suicide are doing so at more than two times the rate of the rest of the population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

A new partnership between Florida Atlantic University and the Community Foundation of Broward extends mental health-focused research and educational programs of the FAU-Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute (SNBI) to Broward County residents, including veterans, children and adults.

Through a four-year, $400,000 grant from the Sharron and Joseph Ashby Hubert Fund of the Community Foundation of Broward, two research projects will be expanded – one focused on stress in early life and one focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. In addition, the grant will fund the expansion of the SNBI MobileMinds program, bringing STEM education through brain science and health lessons on the road and into Broward County classrooms. It also will endow a symposium on advances in brain research and mental health for both Broward’s medical professionals and the public.

“Addressing mental health is one of the most important considerations for improving the lives of Broward County residents,” said Sheri Brown Grosvenor, vice president, community impact of the Community Foundation of Broward. “The challenges of mental health affect not only individuals but their families and our entire community. We’re proud to expand the work of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute to provide education, awareness, and research on mental health challenges to residents in Broward County.”

Over the next four years, the SNBI MobileMinds van will be visiting Broward County schools, expanding access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Title 1 classrooms. A component of SNBI’s Advancing STEM Community Engagement through Neuroscience Discovery program, MobileMinds sparks interest and understanding of the brain and brain health in middle schoolers through hands-on demonstrations of brain structure as well as touchscreen and virtual reality based brain science lessons and activities.

The educational symposium will feature national leaders in research on lifelong consequences of toxic stress, especially in youth and veterans, and paths to resiliency. Planned as an annual event to provide broad access to mental health information, the endowed symposium leaves a legacy for the mission of the Sharron and Joseph Ashby Hubert Fund of the Community Foundation of Broward.

“Finding solutions and providing education are the most effective ways to save and improve the lives of those suffering with mental health and mood disorders, as well as reducing the negative impacts of mental health conditions on people, families and our community. Knowledge increases awareness of conditions and symptoms and helps the community recognize when they or someone they know may be at risk,” said Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of the FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute, the David J.S. Nicholson Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience, and a professor of biomedical science in FAU’s Charles F. Schmidt College of Medicine. “We are very pleased to be expanding our educational programs to the residents of Broward County.”

Blakely’s research on early life stress and a second research project focused on stress resiliency in veterans will be expanded through the grant. Both projects are in process at SNBI and center on identifying the brain’s stress-resiliency mechanisms. Blakely and Ning Quan, Ph.D., are working to identify mechanisms triggered in the brain in the context of early life stress such as abandonment, abuse or poverty, with a focus on how the body’s immune system can both positively and negatively affect brain function. Their research provides opportunities to detect physiological changes arising from adverse childhood experiences, with the potential to inform interventions and policies to help youth and adults overcome these stresses.

The second research project focuses on veterans exhibiting post-traumatic stress symptoms that may be related to traumatic brain injury. Cheryl Krause-Parello, Ph.D., and Chad Forbes, Ph.D., are evaluating veterans’ responses to low-level light therapy known as photobiomodulation to stimulate cellular function and promote tissue repair. The long-term goal is to determine candidates who would benefit from the treatment. The researchers will collaborate with Broward community physicians and hospitals for recruitment.

“The FAU Stiles-Nicholson Brain Institute comprises some of the very best research and programming in neuroscience, not only in Florida but nationwide,” said David Green, interim vice president of Institutional Advancement. “This partnership with the Community Foundation of Broward helps further the institute’s mission of better understanding the human brain while educating the next generation of neuroscientists.”

For more information or to participate in the study as a veteran, contact Destiny Fava at SNBI at socialneurolab@fau.edu or 561-287-3443.