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NINDS funds research across the spectrum from basic research aimed at understanding normal brain and nervous system function to large Phase III clinical trials to test or compare treatments.   A strong, dynamic, and balanced portfolio of basic and disease-focused research is essential for progress in neuroscience, and striking the right balance is an important challenge for NINDS and the scientific community.
If the decline continues unabated, in 10 years or so, we might not have any fundamental basic research left in our portfolio.
I have just posted the results of an extensive NINDS analysis showing a sharp decline between 1997 and 2012 in our funding of fundamental basic research studies. We looked at whether this change might be driven by NINDS calls for applications in certain areas or by review patterns, but we found no evidence that either of these factors played a significant role.  What did emerge from our analysis was a clear decrease in the number of applications submitted for fundamental basic research. While basic applications scored better than other types of applications in review, I am concerned that investigators appear to be abandoning this vital component of our research portfolio.

This shift might result from scientists finding disease-focused research increasingly compelling and disease models and tools increasingly accessible. Disease-focused studies may also be a logical extension of the fundamental research questions they had been pursuing. This shift, however, might also be due to investigators believing that NINDS is no longer interested in supporting research into the normal function of the brain and nervous system.  This is not the case at all.

While I believe it is critically important that we find ways to accelerate translation of discoveries into new treatments, I am concerned that basic research is disappearing from our portfolio.  Fundamental research is not funded in any substantial way by other sources, and a lack of basic knowledge can stand in the way of progress across all of neuroscience.  There is no magic formula for achieving the “right” balance between basic and disease-focused research, but if the recent decline continues unabated, in 10 years or so, we might not have any fundamental basic research left in our portfolio.

I want to encourage investigators to engage in curiosity-driven science, both basic and disease-focused, and assure them that NINDS is eager to support excellent research wherever their curiosity takes them. I have posted this analysis in detail as my first blog post to get your thoughts and feedback. I look forward to hearing from you on this topic.

Read more about the new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to stimulate research addressing fundamental questions in basic neuroscience: Promoting Research in Basic Neuroscience (R01)

Last Modified April 8, 2015