Salk Institute scientists receive NIH grant to better understand the brain

Salk Institute scientists Nicola Allen, Eiman Azim, Margarita Behrens, and Joseph Ecker have been named recipients in the 2019 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to better understand the brain.

The grants, totaling $12.9 million, are awarded through the BRAIN Initiative as part of its mission "to deepen understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and to improve how we treat, prevent, and cure disorders of the brain." The BRAIN awards further that mission by supporting scientific teams to advance neurotechnologies and provide a deeper understanding of the link between brain function and behavior.

It's an honor for the Salk to be selected once again to participate in the BRAIN Initiative. The research these generous awards are funding may provide the stepping stones needed to one day understand and potentially correct the many dysfunctions of the brain, including mental illness and Alzheimer's disease.

Salk President and Professor Rusty Gage

Three NIH BRAIN Initiative grants will support the research of the following four Salk scientists:

Nicola Allen, a professor and holder of the Hearst Foundation Development Chair, and Joseph Ecker, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, professor and director of Salk's Genomic Analysis Laboratory, were awarded a three-year, $4.6 million grant to identify what factors regulate the development and regional specialization of support cells in the brain, called glial cells, and generate new tools to target these cells. Glial cell dysfunction is implicated in a multitude of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease.

Eiman Azim, an assistant professor and the William Scandling Development Chair, was awarded a five-year, $2.9 million grant to identify neural circuits that establish the speed and precision of skilled limb movements, such as reaching and grasping. The project aims to shed light on more effective diagnosis and treatment of motor system disease and injury.

Joseph Ecker and Margarita Behrens, a research professor and member of Salk's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, were together awarded a three-year $5.4 million grant to study the epigenomes of cell types and gene control elements in different regions of the human brain.

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