Zylka and Philpot to lead UNC Neuroscience Center

Mark Zylka, PhD, will serve as director and Ben Philpot, PhD, will serve as associate director of the UNC Neuroscience Center at the UNC School of Medicine, effective July 1. William Snider, MD, who has served as the center’s director for nearly 17 years, will step down from his leadership role, but will remain on faculty as professor of neurology, while also continuing his research.

Zylka and Philpot to lead UNC Neuroscience Center click to enlarge Ben Philpot, PhD, Mark Zylka, PhD will begin their leadership on July 1

Media contact: Jamie Williams, 984-974-1149, Jamie.williams@unchealth.unc.edu

January 14, 2016

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Mark Zylka, PhD, will serve as director and Ben Philpot, PhD, will serve as associate director of the UNC Neuroscience Center at the UNC School of Medicine, effective July 1. William Snider, MD, who has served as the center’s director for nearly 17 years, will step down from his leadership role, but will remain on faculty as professor of neurology, while also continuing his research.

In their new roles, Zylka and Philpot will aim to build on the reputation of the UNC Neuroscience Center. Both praised Snider for cultivating an environment of collegiality and collaboration that they say has been responsible for much of the center’s success.

“Dr. Snider has done an extraordinary job building a cohesive community of top faculty that has been able to consistently publish exciting work in the best journals,” said Philpot, professor of cell biology and physiology. “We definitely have some big shoes to fill, but maybe between the two of us we’ll be able to do that.”

In his time as center director, Snider oversaw tremendous growth in the neuroscience research enterprise at the UNC School of Medicine and said all of the recent acclaim for research from UNC has been “incredibly gratifying.”

“We have some exceptionally talented individuals here, and so I have made it my role to try and provide advice and encouragement when needed while also helping to foster an environment that promotes intellectual curiosity and collaboration between colleagues,” Snider said.

That spirit of collaboration helped to bring together Zylka and Philpot. When they arrived at UNC, each had their own research interests. But, after sharing neighboring office and lab space, they were able to identify their complementary expertise.

“Through contagious enthusiasm and interest, colleagues can shape you for the better,” said Zylka, associate professor of cell biology and physiology. “In the past, science has seemed very insular, but now with the push for translational research, it’s more important than ever for multiple researchers to work together.”

 Zylka and Philpot’s collaboration has produced groundbreaking research in the fields of chronic pain, autism, and Angelman syndrome. The work has earned them international attention.

“Mark Zylka and Ben Philpot are world leaders in the study of the causes of autism and other developmental disorders of the brain,” said Michael Greenberg, PhD, chair of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. “Their research is unique in that it not only has revealed the mechanistic basis of these disorders, but also has been aimed at developing some of the very first therapeutics for treating these disorders.”

In their roles as leaders at the UNC Neuroscience Center, Zylka and Philpot say they want to extend the reach of the center to find more opportunities for collaboration.

“We have a great core of faculty here at the center, but there are people on the undergraduate campus or in other departments who are great neuroscientists, and we hope to increase cohesiveness across the expanse of UNC,” Philpot said.

One of their first tasks, Zylka said, will be to work with other faculty members to identify areas of research that would be benefit from increased focus and attention.

They also will be tasked with oversight of multiple core facilities that Philpot described as “phenomenal.”

The two want to continue and expand upon the work Snider has done to foster an intellectually vibrant environment that often welcomes leading researchers from other institutions for lectures and symposiums, and which annually awards the Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize, an honor that has gone to renowned researchers, five of whom were subsequently awarded Nobel Prizes.

“We obviously want to bring in the best and brightest so that our faculty can learn from them, but we also want to showcase what we have here, which is one of the best neurosciences facilities in the world,” Philpot said.

Zylka added, “We want to get the word out so that people think of UNC for what we are: a leader in the field of neuroscience.”

Snider said he’s confident the pair will succeed.

“We are truly poised for tremendous growth and scientific advancement,” Snider said. “I have no doubt that the best is yet to come.”

Both Zylka and Philpot are members of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.