The Department of Neuroscience welcomes Tom Franken, MD, PhD, as an Assistant Professor starting September, 2022. The primary focus of Franken’s research is to understand how our brain processes incoming sensory information such that we perceive the world as an organized collection of objects. Such computations are fundamental to the myriad activities in our daily lives that require us to interact with objects, and go awry in brain disorders such as schizophrenia or agnosia. Recently, he is interested in the neural circuits that assign borders in a visual scene to foreground areas (also known as border ownership assignment), such that the brain can identify the objects in the scene. To understand how the computations in these circuits determine what we see, Franken uses behavioral, electrophysiological and optical approaches. For this research he is supported by a K99/R00 award from the National Eye Institute at the NIH.
“Dr. Franken’s research is significant for understanding how the brain interprets and fills in missing information to create a coherent representation of the world,” said Linda Richards, PhD, Edison Professor of Neuroscience and head of the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine. “His work will add to our current research strengths in sensory neuroscience and ensure that our Department remains at the forefront of discoveries in the field.”
Franken completed his MD and PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the KU Leuven in Belgium where he studied sound localization circuits in the brainstem, in the laboratory of Professor Philip Joris, MD, PhD. Afterward, he pursued postdoctoral training on visual processing in the brain’s cortex with John Reynolds, PhD, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.
Franken said he is excited to start his own lab and join the dynamic research community at WashU. “I like that Washington University and the Department have tremendous ambition in investing in neuroscience research, which is crucial to lessen the human suffering that is caused by brain disorders,” said Dr. Franken. He looks forward to contributing to that goal by mentoring young neuroscientists in his laboratory.
In St. Louis, Franken is excited to get involved in the sports and music scenes. “I moved to the US in 2016 from Europe and have since become interested in the game of baseball. It will be exciting to live in a city that breathes this game as much as St. Louis does. As an amateur flutist and pianist, I am also looking forward to frequent the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble with an illustrious history.”
Visit the Franken Lab to learn more about his research and opportunities to join the group.