Van Essen elected president of the Society for Neuroscience

David Van Essen, Ph.D., the Edison Professor of Neurobiology and head of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has been elected president of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest organization for scientists who study the brain.

Van Essen, a leading investigator of the structure and function of the cerebral cortex in primates, will officially become president-elect at the society’s annual meeting in November in Washington, D. C. His one-year term as president starts at the society’s 2006 meeting.

Van Essen is the fourth Washington University neuroscientist and third head of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology to be elected president of the society. He previously served as secretary of the society for two years.

Founded in 1970, the Society for Neuroscience has 36,000 members and hosts one of the scientific community’s largest annual meetings. Last year’s meeting drew more than 31,000 attendees.

“The society puts great effort into ensuring that the annual meeting is the preferred place for specialists to go every year to be up-to-date with what’s happening in their area and to branch out and explore other specialties,” says Van Essen.

The society’s other missions include publishing The Journal of Neuroscience, advocating for neuroscience research funding by government agencies and private foundations, and communicating the importance and excitement of neuroscience research to the general public.

“One perspective I’ll bring to the presidency is the importance of effective communication through many means, particularly electronic communication via the Internet,” says Van Essen, who notes that when he was editor-in-chief of The Journal of Neuroscience he oversaw the journal’s transition to online publication.

Van Essen endorses the society’s recent activities in support of neuroinformatics, a new field focused on making many types of neuroscientific data, ranging from the molecular components of the brain to human neuroimaging discoveries, available online in easily searchable formats.

“I believe the society can play a valuable coordinating role, striving to ensure that ongoing neuroinformatics efforts yield maximum benefit to the community at large,” he says.

Two previous heads of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Max Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., and Gerald Fischbach, M.D., also served as Society for Neuroscience presidents. Dennis Choi, M.D., Ph.D., former head of the Department of Neurology, was also a society president.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.