Scientists have been developing astounding new tools for exploring neural circuits that underlie brain function throughout the first five years of the National Institutes of Health's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative. Now, the NIH has announced its continued support for these projects by funding over 180 new BRAIN Initiative awards, bringing the total 2019 budget for the program to more than $424 million. This work may not only help paralyzed patients to communicate more easily, but also allow neuroscientists to closely examine the brain at work, in real time. This year's awards also include new projects that will help researchers understand neural circuits, study non-neuronal brain cells called glia, analyze and store complex neuroscience data, test neuromodulation approaches for regaining dexterity after stroke and address ethical implications of the advancing science.
These new awards bring us ever closer to realizing the promise of the BRAIN Initiative. The tools being developed are illuminating the underpinnings of the most perplexing brain diseases, while also expanding our understanding of the brain itself."
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., NIH Director
Launched in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative is a large-scale effort to accelerate neuroscience research by equipping researchers with the tools and insights necessary for studying a wide variety of brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. The initiative is supported by Congress through the regular appropriations process and the 21st Century Cures Act.
Over the past year, NIH BRAIN Initiative-funded researchers have created a system for studying circuits in a postmortem animal brain; programmed a computer to mimic natural speech from people's brain signals; and located a salt-craving neuron. Through advanced imaging techniques they have watched neurons spark and fire in the brains of running mice and made high-speed, high-resolution, 3D films of a nervous system in action.
"BRAIN Initiative researchers are transforming the way we think about the brain," said Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., director of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "We hope that this pace of discovery will accelerate even more with the newly funded awards."
This year more than 70 research institutions received awards to support the work of over 270 investigators representing fields ranging from engineering to psychology. BRAIN investigators will continue their remarkable achievements in data science with the largest human brain cell census to date; creation of a glial cell atlas; and establishment of brain data warehouses. Other projects include the development of a noninvasive nanoparticle brain tool delivery system; and an examination of the ethics surrounding the use of deep brain stimulation for treating children with brain disorders. Descriptions of all of the research projects can be found on the NIH BRAIN Initiative website.
"These new awards expand the scope of the NIH BRAIN Initiative. Researchers will explore the full range of brain cell systems, discover meaningful and timely ways of sharing data, and get us even closer to a true understanding of the brain," said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute of Mental Health.