Brain Research through Advancing Neurotechnologies: Insights from The BRAIN Initiative℠ Multi-Council Working Group

The BRAIN Initiative℠ goal is to develop neurotechnologies that will enable scientists “to map the circuits of the brain, measure the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits, and understand how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities.” On March 4, 2015 the NIH BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) met for the second time to discuss current BRAIN Initiative activities, new funding opportunity announcements, and strategic planning for the future of the NIH BRAIN Initiative efforts. The BRAIN MCWG includes one member of the Advisory Council from each of the 10 NIH Institutes and Centers that contribute to the NIH BRAIN Initiative. In addition, at-large members are appointed to supplement MCWG expertise, and ex officio members are appointed from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) – NIH’s four federal partners involved in The BRAIN Initiative℠. The purpose of the MCWG is to provide oversight for the long-term scientific vision of The BRAIN Initiative℠ and serve as a forum for initial “concept clearance” or the review of ideas for new initiatives before they become funding announcements. Read more

NIH Workshop Focuses on Ethical Considerations of Neuroscience Research

In 2013 President Obama asked the Presidential Commission on Bioethics to review the ethical issues associated with the conduct and implications of neuroscience research. Their report, Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics and Society, outlines many of the key areas for thought, dialog and planning. A major recommendation of the Commission was that neuroethics should be integrated into the planning and scientific activity of The BRAIN Initiative℠. On November 3, 2014, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) followed up on the report by convening a panel experienced in the ethics of neuroscience to discuss research questions central to the mission of the multiple NIH neuroscience Institutes and Centers as well as BRAIN. This NIH Neuroethics meeting (watch the videocast) brought together three dozen researchers, clinicians, bioethicists, and leadership from the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration, and NIH to discuss neuroethics and identify five to ten high priority areas for NIH-supported research related to both the ethical conduct of neuroscience research and the ethical uses of applications stemming from that research.

Read the summary of the NIH Neuroethics Workshop 2014.

March 4, 2015, meeting of the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group will meet at the Neuroscience Center Building (6001 Executive Boulevard Rockville, MD). The meeting agenda will include discussion of BRAIN research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), neuroethics, and presentations on BRAIN-related activities supported by the four additional Federal agencies involved in The BRAIN InitiativeSM: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The meeting is open to the public and will be videocast live.

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S 2016 BUDGET PROPOSES INCREASED FUNDING FOR THE BRAIN INITIATIVE

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) InitiativeSM is a bold undertaking aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. Since its inception in April of 2013, it has grown to include five Federal agencies – the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The President’s 2016 Budget proposes increasing federal funding for The BRAIN InitiativeSM from about $200 million in FY 2015 to more than $300 million in FY 2016.

Included in the President’s 2016 Budget is a proposed $135 million for the NIH to invest in The BRAIN InitiativeSM, which would be an increase of about $60 million over the FY 2015 BRAIN InitiativeSM appropriation for NIH. This investment will support a diverse set of projects with ambitious goals, including developing new devices to record and modulate activity in the human nervous system, revolutionizing human neuroimaging technologies to understand how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in time and space, and modeling and analyzing the complex data that scientists obtain in their quest to understand how the brain works. Taken together, these research efforts aim to develop and apply cutting-edge technologies to create a dynamic picture of the brain in action, providing the critical knowledge base for researchers seeking new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders.

FNIH AWARDS KARL DEISSEROTH 2015 LURIE PRIZE

The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) has awarded the 2015 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences to Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University. Dr. Deisseroth, a member of the BRAIN Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, is being honored for leading the development of optogenetics, a technology for using light to control the activity of neurons, as well as for CLARITY, a method for transforming intact organs into transparent polymer gels to allow high-resolution visualization of biological structures.

Over the past decade, optogenetics has become a ubiquitous tool in neuroscience labs worldwide and has played an important role in hundreds of research papers investigating the basic function of neurons as well as defects in neural circuitry underlying diseases such as Parkinson’s, depression, and schizophrenia. Developed two years ago, CLARITY has already enabled scientists to observe molecular-level details of healthy brains and the brains of Alzheimer’s disease and autism patients.

In alignment with the BRAIN Initiative’s goal of training scientists to use next-generation neuroscience tools and techniques, Dr. Deisseroth, using a research supplement from NINDS, offers free three-day workshops on both optogenetics and CLARITY throughout the year.

The Lurie Prize recognizes outstanding achievement by a promising scientist age 52 or younger, and includes a $100,000 honorarium. Dr. Deisseroth will be presented with the prize May 20 in Washington, D.C.

New Funding Opportunity Announcements: Next-Gen Ideas, Early Phase Research

NIH has released a number of exciting new Requests for Applications (RFAs) for The BRAIN InitiativeSM, and we are encouraging researchers from across the physical and life sciences, as well as engineering disciplines, to submit applications to these and other open BRAIN Initiative funding opportunities.

The first announcement, RFA-EY-15-001, provides support for very early-stage studies to develop or determine the feasibility of out-of-the box ideas for accessing and understanding the brain’s emitted signals. These studies may need simulations, bench-top testing, and in vitro experiments. This RFA will provide seed funding for ideas that need to be developed further before they can reach the end-goal of recording or modulating signals in the brain.

The second pair of announcements, RFA-NS-15-006 and RFA-NS-15-008, seek applications for translational and clinical studies that develop the next generation of recording and/or stimulation devices to treat central nervous system disorders and better understand the human brain. These RFAs will support non-clinical testing (UH2 mechanism) and small, short-term clinical studies (UH3) that will enable critical improvement of implantable devices to advance their therapeutic and research value dramatically.
The receipt deadlines for these three RFAs are in late March and early April. Please check our Funding Opportunities page for more details on these and other, open RFAs for The BRAIN InitiativeSM.

Collaborations Develop Among First BRAIN Initiative Awardees Following Kickoff Meeting

On November 20th and 21st, 2014, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, NIH brought together agency staff and the recipients of the first BRAIN Initiative awards for an Investigators Kickoff Meeting. Over 200 participants gathered at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center to learn more about agency goals and expectations for The BRAIN InitiativeSM, meet and interact with each other, and identify potential areas of research coordination and collaboration. The BRAIN Initiative seeks new ways to advance science to generate new theories of brain function in health and disease. To this end, the Investigator Kickoff and future collaborative meetings will support the efforts of current and future investigators to accelerate technological transformation and advance the integration of experimentation.

Though a primarily closed-door event, a Washington Post reporter who observed the meeting recently wrote an article external link describing the meeting in relation to the initiative, and captured the truly collaborative nature of the Investigator Kickoff through interviews with multiple awardees.

NIH BRAIN INITIATIVE ISSUES REQUEST FOR INFORMATION ABOUT PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS FOR DEVELOPING HUMAN STIMULATING/RECORDING DEVICES

As delineated in the “BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision” report, crucial scientific knowledge of brain function comes from patients who voluntarily consent to the collection of research data as they undergo diagnostic or therapeutic brain monitoring with recording or stimulating electrodes. Researchers need to access the latest generation of devices to optimize the scientific value of this unique opportunity. Cooperation of clinical and academic research teams with private companies could quickly break down technological barriers and forge a new streamlined path for developing, implementing and integrating new devices for advancing human neuroscience research. Toward this end, NIH is interested in creating public/private partnerships with manufacturers to facilitate broad access to novel intracranial stimulating and/or recording devices for conducting clinical research.

NIH is especially interested in working with manufacturers willing to share their pre-clinical safety and technical data on instruments that fall into the FDA category of “significant risk,” meaning they may be implantable and could pose serious risk to the health, safety, or welfare of subjects. These data can be costly and time-consuming to obtain, but are required for new clinical research protocols using the latest generation of devices. Successful partnerships will facilitate research on human brain function, deepen our understanding of mechanisms and underlying human brain disorders, increase effectiveness of therapies, and enhance the value of diagnostics.

On behalf of the NIH Institutes involved in the BRAIN Initiative, NINDS has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to seek input from interested academic/clinical researchers, regulatory and other government agencies, healthcare professionals, members of the public and potential industry partners, to identify key barriers and potential opportunities for granting NIH investigators earlier access to these significant risk stimulating/recording devices in order to conduct important, ethical human studies research. Small businesses with appropriate technologies are especially encouraged to provide input. This RFI is intended to gather relevant information and identify interested parties to inform a follow-on workshop. The deadline for submitting input is November 21, 2014.

Follow this link to submit your input.

INITIAL WAVE OF NIH GRANTS AND PRIVATE INVESTMENTS ANNOUNCED FOR BRAIN INITIATIVE

Separate events on Tuesday, September 30 highlighted the awardees of the first round of NIH BRAIN Initiative grants and the additional investments by companies, foundations, patient advocacy organizations, universities, and private research institutions to support the BRAIN Initiative.

At the National Press Club, NIH Director Francis Collins, alongside NINDS and NIMH Directors and representatives from the scientific and advocacy community, congratulated the first 58 NIH BRAIN Initiative grant awardees. Approximately $46 million in federal grants will support the research projects of over 100 investigators in 15 states and three countries. Emphasizing the importance of developing next-generation tools for studying the brain in health and illness, Collins featured several grants when describing the initiative’s overall potential impact. Collins referred to BRAIN as America’s next moonshot on his blog, declaring that the 12-year scientific plan for BRAIN should enable “the next leap in understanding the brain.”

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren and Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation Tom Kalil later unveiled the broad response to the President’s call for “an all hands on deck” effort to support the BRAIN Initiative at a White House press conference. Major foundations, patient advocacy organizations, universities, and corporations, including the Simons Foundation, GE and Google, will align more than $240 million in research efforts with the BRAIN Initiative. Kalil called for “the emergence of regional technology clusters,” which will form via contributions from several private companies involved in neuro-based technologies.

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) have joined the BRAIN Initiative. The FDA, while not directly supplying funds for research, plans to heighten the transparency of the regulatory landscape for medical devices to treat brain disorders. IARPA will be funding a handful of innovative research projects involving machine learning.

More information about the exciting growth of the BRAIN Initiative can be found here.

NIH BRAIN MULTI-COUNCIL WORKING GROUP DISCUSSES FY14 GRANTS AND FUTURE FUNDING ANNOUNCEMENT CONCEPTS

The first meeting of the NIH BRAIN Initiative Multi-Council Working Group (MCWG) took place on August 25. The working group, co-chaired by NINDS Director Story Landis and NIMH Director Tom Insel, is composed of 14 outstanding extramural neuroscience researchers and a neuro-ethics expert, in addition to three ex officio members representing Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The purpose of the working group is to provide input on a variety of issues to the advisory councils of the 10 NIH Institutes participating in the BRAIN Initiative. The meeting included an overview of the BRAIN Initiative, an overview of the working group’s responsibilities, and a discussion of the applications received in response to the NIH’s initial six BRAIN Initiative funding announcements. In the afternoon, concepts for potential future BRAIN funding announcements were presented for input and approval.