The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is nearly doubling its investment in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Its third round of grants will raise thetotal investment in 2016 to more than $150 million.
“This year, more projects will be based, at least in part, on data from humans,” Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement. “Some of these projects are aimed at fine-tuning brain stimulation and other promising technologies for the treatment of mental illnesses.”
The NIH is awarding more than 100 new grants to over 170 researchers at 60 institutions that will total more than $70 million. Some of the proposals include:
- Developing computer programs to help detect autism and Alzheimer’s disease from brain scans
- Building a cap that uses ultrasound waves to stimulate brain cells with precision
- Creating a “neural dust” system made of tiny electric sensors to record brain activity wirelessly
- Improving rehabilitation technologies for stroke
- Studying how the brain reads and speaks
President Obama started the BRAIN Initiative in 2013 in an effort to help researchers learn more information to treat brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. He will be speaking in Pittsburgh on October 13 at the White House Frontiers Conference hosted by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh to discuss the 8 years of scientific achievements during his administration.
The NIH’s involvement in the BRAIN Initiative is guided by BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, a long-term scientific plan that emphasizes an early investment in basic neuroscience research.
“There are very few effective cures for neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders,” Walter J. Koroshetz, MD, director of NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said in a statement. “By pushing the boundaries of fundamental neuroscience research, NIH BRAIN Initiative scientists are providing the insights researchers will need to develop 21st century treatments.”
During the past 2 years, there have been several breakthroughs and more than 125 published research papers from scientists funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative. These breakthroughs include:
- A blueprint for a wearable positron emission tomography scanner helmet from researchers at the University of West Virginia and University of Virginia, which would allow doctors to monitor brain activity while patients are in a more natural position or are walking around.
- Mapped brains of zebrafish from when they were hunting or reacting to stimuli, from Harvard University. These maps, called Z-brain, can be obtained by scientists for free and may one day help chart activity in human brains.
- Designer drugs to switch neurons on or off (DREADD, Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) from scientists at the University of Chapel Hill North Carolina and at the NIH’s National Institute of Drug Abuse.
- An assembly line system to quickly analyze genes in newborn brain cells, from the University of California in San Francisco. This has led to clues of how the Zika virus might infect neurons, as well as how the human brain may have grown as it evolved.
- A method for sequencing genes from thousands of neurons simultaneously in one experiment, called Drop-seq, from researchers at Harvard University. This may one day allow scientists to create a library for every cell in the human brain.
Lists of new grants in multiple categories can be found at https://braininitiative.nih.gov/funding/fundedAwards.htm.
NIH nearly doubles investment in BRAIN Initiative research. NIH. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-nearly-doubles-investment-brain-initiative-research. Accessed October 13, 2016.