Michael A. Fox, director of the Center for Neurobiology Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, will transition from his current leadership position into a new role as director of the School of Neuroscience within the Virginia Tech College of Science.

Fox will officially step into his new position on July 1, while remaining a professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Fox will step down as director of the institute’s Center for Neurobiology Research, but will maintain his research programs at the institute, where he will continue to mentor and train undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, and postdoctoral fellows.

Harald Sontheimer, the founding executive director of the School of Neuroscience, will focus on his pioneering brain research and leadership role as the founding director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Center for Glial Biology in Health, Disease, and Cancer. The impact of the current research that Sontheimer has been underscored by two new major National Institute of Health grants valued at $5 million to research epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, bringing his current active research grant portfolio to more than $7 million. Additionally, Sontheimer has played a major leadership role in the research institute’s contribution to Virginia Tech’s response for testing for COVID-19.

“This is an exciting and progressive move for the School of Neuroscience, as well as for Dr. Fox and Dr. Sontheimer,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “I’d like to thank Dr. Sontheimer for the vision he showed in conceiving and growing the school into one of the university’s most popular degree programs. Dr. Fox is the right leader to further elevate the School of Neuroscience to be a beacon for Virginia Tech across our tripartite mission.”

Harald Sontheimer poses in his Roanoke lab, wearing a lab coat

Harald Sontheimer poses in his Roanoke lab, wearing a lab coat
Harald Sontheimer

Following the transition, Sontheimer will continue to pursue his leading research, which is critical to understanding major brain disorders, such as epilepsy, malignant brain tumors, and neurodegenerative diseases.

“I will forever be proud of what we created in the School of Neuroscience, the first such undergraduate program in the United States,” Sontheimer said. “I am looking forward to being able to focus as a researcher on work that could bring relief to millions of people who struggle with persistent neurological issues.”

Fox is a professor at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute as well as in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science. Research in Fox’s laboratory focuses on elucidating the mechanisms underlying the development and long-term maintenance of brain synapses and how malformation or malfunction of these synapses can lead to devastating neurological conditions. He will continue to lead his laboratory’s research in that field, while taking the reins of the rapidly growing School of Neuroscience.

As of this spring, the School of Neuroscience had more than 800 students majoring in its four programs: cognitive/behavioral neuroscience, clinical neuroscience, computational neuroscience, and experimental neuroscience. The school moved into the newly renovated Sandy Hall on the Drillfield last year.

Michael Friedlander, the founding executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, said, “It has been my distinct pleasure to have recruited both Dr. Sontheimer and Dr. Fox to Virginia Tech. They are both outstanding neuroscientists who also have excellent leadership skills as well as a deep commitment to education. Through this transition of leadership, the continuity of both of their research programs here at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke will continue to add to the strength of the greater Virginia Tech brain research community.”

Fox said he is excited to take the helm of the innovative School of Neuroscience, a field that has become a flagship for the College of Science and the university. “The Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience serves as a leader in undergraduate neuroscience education across the country, and I am honored to work with our faculty, staff, and students to continue to build a nationally-recognized program that educates and trains the nation’s future scientists.”

“I am also excited to work closely with the school’s faculty,” Fox continued, “because they are not only excellent educators, they are leaders in their respective research fields, making the School of Neuroscience a hub for unlocking key mysteries of how the brain functions, develops, and changes in response to environmental and pathogenic cues.”

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