In April, President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative as a grand challenge to give "scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and learn and remember." Today, NIH is responding to this call for action by issuing six funding opportunity announcements that represent the initial steps towards creating those new tools.
NIH developed these requests for applications after an intensive public scientific planning process led by a 15-member working group of exceptional extramural neuroscientists. The working group worked extraordinarily hard over the summer to deliver an interim report with nine recommendations to the NIH in mid-September. Based on the interim report, NIH staff moved rapidly to craft the announcements that were released today, allowing NIH to launch the BRAIN initiative this fiscal year.
Taken together, the six funding opportunities address the need to understand the building blocks of brain function, the cells and circuits that comprise the brain, and challenge the scientific community to devise novel ways to image the human brain. Two of the announcements focus on defining these cells and circuits, and the others focus on recording and modulating circuit activity and creating interdisciplinary teams focused on developing next-generation imaging capabilities for the human brain. The tools and teams that emerge will expand our understanding of the structure and function of the brain at a fundamental level. For example, these announcements could ultimately equip researchers with the ability to create a census of all the cells in the vertebrate brain; experimentally access specific brain cells and circuits; and record brain cell activity from a larger number of cells, for longer periods of time, and/or deeper in the brain.
These funding opportunities are unusual in several ways. Since the research to be supported is meant to create new tools and technologies, applicants are not asked to provide preliminary data. Five of the announcements will fund cooperative agreements, ensuring that these milestone-driven projects feature close collaboration between interdisciplinary teams of scientists conducting the research and NIH program staff. Finally, consistent with the principles outlined by the BRAIN working group, the projects will include efforts to disseminate resulting technologies widely, with the goal of incorporating them into regular neuroscience practice.
NIH is making an initial investment of $40 million in 2014. Some in the community remain concerned that the BRAIN initiative will reduce already low grant paylines while others are concerned that $40 million is not enough to meet the initiative's ambitious goal. Seven million of these dollars come from NINDS. This will not have a significant impact on our projected payline, but leveraged with additional funds from other Institutes, the Neuroscience Blueprint, and the Office of the NIH Director – new money that otherwise might not have been directed towards neuroscience research – it is an excellent start on creating new resources that will benefit the entire field.
The research supported through the BRAIN initiative promises to accelerate discovery, recruit new scientists and additional experts into the field, and provide insights that will change our understanding of how the brain controls behavior. With the release of these announcements, we have taken the first step towards fulfilling this exciting promise.
Last updated December 23, 2013