Academic institutions in virtually all nations offer lecture courses that include modern principles of basic neuroscience. Except for those in the richest nations, however, few have the personnel for courses that include an explanation of the experiments from which the principles are derived, which is essential for weighing their certainty and using them most effectively for developing a career in neuroscience research and/or medical practice.
The IBRO Visiting Lecture Team Program (VLTP) offers experiment-based lecture courses in economically developing countries that cover a variety of topics of current interest in basic neuroscience. They include: mechanisms of impulse conduction and synaptic transmission; structure, function and pharmacology of membrane receptors and channels; information processing in sensory systems; regulation of behavioural patterns; and neurodevelopment.
Typically, a course extends over nine days with a holiday in the middle and includes 35 lectures. The lecture team consists of five members internationally recognized for their excellence as experimentalists and teachers. Each member gives a total of seven lectures in his/her area of expertise, developing one to three themes that begin with fundamental concepts and end with the most recent research findings. Accordingly, the students learn how principles of neuroscience are established, from the generation of hypotheses and the design of experiments to the interpretation of data.
Each lecturer attends all lectures and participates in the question/answer sessions after them. In addition, they lead daily small group discussions that augment the lecture content and give daily tutorials on how to present a 10-minute research talk and write an abstract for international conferences, so that there are 10-12 hours of lecturer-student contact per day.
Students are offered the opportunity to present 10-minute talks to the class on their research or research they intend to do, and the lecturers lead a discussion on opportunities for advanced training in neuroscience abroad. The lecturers also provide long-term assistance in placing those interested in such training. The VLTP occasionally offers shorter courses with more limited objectives.
Since 1994, the VLTP has given more than 40 courses in 26 countries. Each class over the last few years has had 75-100 students, the limit determined primarily by facilities available. They included graduate students, medical students, medical residents, research associates, faculty members and advanced undergraduates from throughout a host country or region. The courses are prepared in collaboration with local and regional neuroscience associations of respective countries.
From 1994-2003, the VLTP was directed by Professor John Nicholls (SISSA, Trieste, Italy). Since 2003, Professor U.J. (Jack) McMahan (Texas A&M University, USA) has been its director. McMahan and Nicholls are members of nearly all lecture teams, while the other members rotate from an increasingly long list of outstanding neuroscientists eager to contribute time and effort to the enterprise.
IBRO expresses deep gratitude to the Grass Foundation, which has been the major partner in funding the VLTP programme.