A 2CI Faculty Q&A:
The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so. Each faculty member has provided the university with their unique perspectives and leadership in their fields. Their work moves forward important and innovative research and scholarship, while lifting the reputation of Georgia State University and its colleges/schools for work addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
This article is part of a series highlighting individual faculty members and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Dr. Nancy G. Forger is a Professor and Director of the Neuroscience Institute, and was recruited to Georgia State as part of 2CI’s second round. The Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2018.
Q: Can you tell me briefly about your research and scholarship?
A: I study mammalian brain development. Some of my work is related to the development of sex differences in the brain. Other work explores the role of birth – the actual process of being born – on brain development. A third project examines the effect of the microbiome (the collection of microorganisms that live on and in us) on brain development during neonatal life. All of our work is conducted in lab animals – mostly mice.
Q: What first interested you in your field of expertise?
A: I got interested in the development of the nervous system by studying sexual differentiation. Several of the first sex differences in the central nervous system of mammals were discovered right around the time I was doing my postdoctoral training at U.C. Berkeley. When I saw with my own eyes that exposing a newborn rat to testosterone (an androgen made by the testes) could permanently change the number of neurons in the brain and spinal cord, I was hooked.
Q: What did you find attractive about Georgia State?
A: Many things. The fact that there is a stand-alone Neuroscience Institute was very attractive. In most universities, neuroscience programs are cobbled together with people in different departments. Here at Georgia State, Neuroscience is its own department, although we also have Associate Members in other departments throughout the university. It’s the best of both worlds. In addition, Georgia State is building and “on the move,” which is exciting. The behavioral neuroscience group at Georgia State is nationally recognized in my field, so they were known to me. Finally, Atlanta is a fun city with good energy and I was ready for a city experience after 18 years in semi-rural Amherst, Mass.
Q: How have your research and scholarship grown since you first arrived at Georgia State?
A: One important new area of growth has been my work on the gut-brain axis. This was only possible because we have a strong group of gut microbiome researchers at Georgia State. By collaborating with these people, I have been able to take my work in a new direction. My research on how birth, and birth mode, affects the developing brain is also entirely new since coming to Georgia State.
Q: What sorts of collaborations have you been able to build at Georgia State, both within the university and outside of the institution?
A: The collaboration with gut researchers, mentioned above, has been very important. Andrew Gewirtz in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences and Benoit Chassaing, who is now in the Neuroscience Institute, have made the gut-brain project possible and I am currently writing a grant proposal to fund that work. I also recently started a collaboration with an epigenetics researcher at Emory University – having Emory so close is definitely a plus.
Q: What new developments do you foresee with your research/scholarly development in the future?
A: Most of the things we’re doing in the lab now are new. I’d like to get stable funding for those projects and stay the course for a few years!
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
A: I’ve found Georgia State to be a very collegial place and am glad I made the decision to come.