The NIH has announced its first wave of investments totaling $46 million in fiscal year 2014 to support the goals of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action.
These new tools and this deeper understanding will ultimately catalyze new treatments and cures for devastating brain disorders and diseases that are estimated by the World Health Organization to affect more than one billion people worldwide.
“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works—or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH director. “There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible. These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain. This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited about the possibilities.”
Creating a wearable scanner to image the human brain in motion, using lasers to guide nerve cell firing, recording the entire nervous system in action, stimulating specific circuits with radio waves and identifying complex circuits with DNA barcodes are among the 58 new projects. The majority of the grants focus on developing transformative technologies that will accelerate fundamental neuroscience research and include:
“How do the billions of cells in our brain control our thoughts, feelings and movements? That’s ultimately what the BRAIN Initiative is about,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. “Understanding this will greatly help us meet the rising challenges that brain disorders pose for the future health of the nation.”
Scientists funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative will develop tools to simultaneously watch the unique firing patterns of many neurons in hopes of classifying them based on physical characteristics, such as size and shape, and functional characteristics, such as patterns of electrical activity.