Arif Hamid, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Hanna H. Gray Fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, joined the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Medical Discovery Team (MDT) on Addiction Nov. 1. His laboratory will look at the underpinnings of the circuit mechanisms in the brain that help facilitate adaptive decision making and the ways in which the neurotransmitter dopamine affects motivation and learning. 

Dr. Hamid completed his undergraduate degree at the U of M, where he was first exposed to neuroscience laboratories, and received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of Michigan. He was then a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University, where he was able to grow as an independent thinker and refine his research.

“I’d always been curious about how the brain coordinates how we behave as reasonable agents in the world,” Dr. Hamid said. “These questions have captivated my interest over the years, and they are what I study in my own laboratory now. To start, we will be building on my initial trajectory which asks a couple of really important questions which are, at the broadest level, what are the brain circuits that help us learn from, plan and execute goals? And, how do they interact physiologically to perform computations, or operations, in order to produce a range of behaviors that we call adaptive flexible behaviors?”

His laboratory uses cutting-edge methods to look inside the brain with high levels of precision. This research has many applications beyond the mere understanding of the neurocircuitry behind the ways in which we react and adapt to our environments. In deconstructing the human brain and understanding the different internal circuit connections, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of why addictions arise as well as other neurological or behavioral problems. 

“There are a lot of direct connections between our mechanistic studies on the basic biology of how the decision-making system operates, and how, if those circuits break or misalign, you then generate a host of disorders that are very debilitating, such as substance abuse or psychiatric disorders,” Dr. Hamid said.

“Moreover, our experiments systematically test the predictions of computational models of decision making and behavior. Thus, by providing experimental evidence for the algorithms biological brains use to solve challenging problems, our studies are an important platform for the development of the next generation of biologically-inspired artificial intelligence,” Dr. Hamid said.

Dr. Hamid was also recently selected for the 2021 cohort of the Next Generation Leaders Advisory Council, an advisory panel for neuroscience research at the Allen Institute

“The Allen Institute for Brain Science has been at the forefront of bringing about robust methods of tackling fundamental questions about the brain in ways that independent laboratories like mine could not,” Dr. Hamid said. “So, I was really excited when this opportunity came up in order for me to apply to be a Next Generation Leader to provide feedback on their own scientific pursuits. I suspect I will get to subtly shape and have a front-row seat to a broad area of emerging science.”

As a faculty member, research leader and an Allen Institute Next Generation Leader, Dr. Hamid wants to ensure there is a robust infrastructure in place to train in the next generation of scientists who can improve on the discoveries of the past through diversely represented, open science.

“There are various issues with the academic pipeline itself, and I am very passionate about fixing those for underrepresented neuroscientists and specific sub-disciplines like female neurobiology and maternal behaviors that are historically marginalized and not sufficiently funded or supported, mostly due to a lack of representation in the decision-making body,” Dr. Hamid said.