By Anne Urai.
I recently visited NYU Shanghai, one of New York University’s global campuses, while on holiday in China. NYU has partnered with East China Normal University, and I visited Dr. Jeffrey Erlich in his office at the leafy Zhongbei campus. The lab is building new rodent facilities built for decision tasks with more than two alternatives, which have not previously been possible in combination with neural recordings.
Neuroscience in China is growing fast, with a number of prominent academics establishing new institutes over the past few years. Many of those are headed by Chinese academics who trained and led labs abroad, such as Mu-Ming Poo who moved from Berkeley to set up the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and Xiao-Jing Wang who leads the NYU-ECNU Brain and Cognitive Sciences Institute while still running his lab in New York. Powerhouses such as MIT and CSHL have also started collaborative institutes and seminar series in Beijing and Suzhou, respectively. Our own institute has also established a collaborative research program CINACS (Cross-modal Interactions in Natural And Cognitive Systems) with Tsinghua University in Beijing.
I believe it’s an exciting time for neuroscience in China, partly because the country is increasing its spending on basic research rapidly (in contrast to diminishing funding in the US), with neuroscience being one of the key areas of development. In some specific areas like primate research and gene editing, Chinese scientists are rapidly positioning themselves on the global stage, facing fewer regulatory restrictions and bioethical opposition than in many western countries. With very different educational and research systems, Chinese scientific institutions are going through a lot of changes to establish the international standards and reputation of globally competitive science. It might still take a while before China firmly places itself on the map of cognitive neuroscience. However, I believe that change in this part of Chinese society, as in many others, will be more rapid than we might expect.