The Consortium exemplifies a rare type of scientific enterprise in neuroscience. Beyond undertaking the major challenge of understanding the pathophysiology of psychiatric disease at a molecular and neural level, the Pritzker Consortium confronts a central tension in biomedical research: encouraging independent and innovative research especially in young investigators, and yet creating a well integrated large team that tackles problems that cannot be resolved by individual labs.
The early phases of each new study are indeed highly integrated. For example, a given set of human brain samples might be collected at one site, dissected at a second site, extracted at a third site and experimentally analyzed at a fourth site. The results are then uploaded to a shared Consortium website for data analysis by a set of scientists from across the Consortium. This effort requires a strong infrastructure for sample tracking, data storage, data analysis and data mining. To this end, novel informatics tools and services have been developed and are shared freely with the scientific community.
However, observations emerging from genome-wide analyses require in depth biological investigation. This offers an opportunity for more independent lines of research for smaller collaborative groups working in the context of the Consortium. These smaller groups use their unique scientific expertise (in vitro systems, animal models, human clinical studies) to drill down on the discoveries and move them from mere observations to potential targets for diagnosis and treatment.
The balance between large teamwork and more specialized scientific efforts is an ongoing process in the Consortium. A key early step was to agree on a “covenant” on how information would be created, shared amongst Consortium members, further mined by others, and subsequently published. The process of creating the covenant underscored differences in subcultures, for example between genetics and neuroscience, in terms of data sharing both within a scientific team and beyond. The day to day functioning of the Consortium, along with the more formal discussions about collaborative styles, have catalyzed the emergence of a distinctive shared scientific culture that is rapidly adopted by new Consortium members.
The social structure elaborated by the Pritzker Consortium, based on shared goals, mutual respect, differing but overlapping expertise, and the blend of large teamwork and smaller in-depth efforts, may prove to be a useful model for addressing the challenge of understanding other brain-related disorders.