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New neuroscience textbook will be a free reference for students in developing countries

An innovative new five-volume digital neuroscience textbook, edited by Rockefeller University professor Donald W. Pfaff, has been published and is being made available at no cost to qualified students in developing countries.

As digital textbooks improved in quality, Pfaff, head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University, saw an opportunity to bring neuroscience education to developing countries at no cost to the students. The project was inspired by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child, a project that gives low-cost, low-power educational devices to children of poor countries.

“We can’t level the playing field between rich and poor countries until education becomes more widespread, particularly education of women,” says Pfaff. “This effort helps further the cause of giving premed and medical students greater access to education in neuroscience.”

Pfaff teamed up with scientific publisher Springer to create Neuroscience in the 21st Century, a 3,200 page, five-volume overview of both basic science and clinical issues in modern neuroscience, for which he is the editor-in-chief. Released in November, the text explores the complex interplay between the biological, psychological and sociocultural factors of brain-related illnesses, including behavioral, neurological and substance abuse disorders. The book, which is geared towards premedical, medical and graduate students, includes videos submitted by leading researchers, such as one that demonstrates axoplasmic flow.

Springer has made the text available via the HINARI Access to Research in Health program, a collaboration between the World Health Organization and major publishers that gives developing countries access to more than 8,500 journals and 7,000 e-books on biomedicine and health, with the goal of improving world health. Pfaff and his colleagues are working to get the digital version of his text, which is valued at over $2,000, to areas in Africa, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America, at no cost to the receiver.

In keeping with its international vision, Pfaff was insistent on having editors and authors from all over the world take part in the project. He contacted international colleagues who are experts in the field to contribute to the text, and estimates that more than 15 countries are represented. Many of the authors, all of whom worked for free, are not just researchers but teachers as well, which helped make the book lecture-friendly for those using it as a teaching tool. The book contains an appendix with guidance on establishing neuroscience programs at institutions that currently lack them.

“I see this as an extension of Rockefeller University’s history of providing medical education at an international level,” Pfaff says. “This is really the first text of its kind with such an international and philanthropic character.”

At Rockefeller, Pfaff studies how hormones affect nerve cells as those cells direct natural, instinctive behaviors, as well as the influences of hormones and genes on generalized brain arousal. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the author of several other books on the brain and behavior, including Brain Arousal and Information Theory, for which he received the 2005 Award for Excellence in Professional and Scholarly Publishing (medical science category) of the Association of American Publishers.