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NIH releases BRAIN Initiative Interim Report

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC

To implement President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Working Group has identified nine high-priority research areas.  The agency is expected to release funding opportunities with $40 million of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 funds.  The BRAIN Working Group submitted its interim report September 16 to the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) identifying themes as core principles for the BRAIN Initiative, as well as high priority research areas for NIH funding in FY 2014.  The interim report’s identified research areas are the areas the Working Group recommends NIH invests in now.  The final plan (to be released June 2014)is expected to outline a longer, decadal vision with collaboration opportunities, timelines, milestones, and cost estimates for achieving the overarching goal of understanding and mapping the human brain.

The following areas are identified as high-priority research areas for NIH in FY 2014:

1. Generate a census of cell types

Characterize all cell types in the nervous system and develop tools to record, mark, and manipulate neurons in vivo; priority given to methods applicable to many animal species including humans.

2. Create structural maps of the brain

Map connected neurons in local circuits and distributed brain systems to link structure and function; faster, cheaper, scalable technologies for anatomic reconstruction of neural circuits.

3. Develop new large-scale network recording capabilities

Record dynamic neuronal activity from complete neural networks over long periods in all brain areas.

4. Develop a suite of tools for circuit manipulation

Develop tools for optogenetics, pharmacogenetics, and biochemical and electromagnetic modulation; emphasis on achieving modulation of circuits in patterns that mimic natural activity.

5. Link neuronal activity to behavior

Understand how neuronal activity underlies cognition and behavior; develop technologies to quantify and interpret animal behavior at high temporal and spatial resolution.

6. Integrate theory, modeling, statistics, and computation with experimentation

Foster collaborations between experimentalists and scientists from statistics, physics, mathematics, engineering, and computer science.

7. Delineate mechanisms underlying human imaging technologies

More effective use of clinical tools for diagnosis and treatments of brain disorders by improving spatial resolution and temporal sampling of human brain imaging techniques.

8. Create mechanisms to enable collection of human data

Integrate research teams of clinicians, engineers, and scientists to maximize collection of data from humans undergoing brain monitoring or receiving neurotechnology.

9. Disseminate knowledge and training

Provide training for newly developed methods and their application (i.e. courses in imaging, electrophysiology, optogenetics, statistics, and computational neuroscience.

The federal government is not coordinating these research efforts across agencies yet.  Grantees may initiate interdisciplinary collaborations among researchers and laboratories to achieve the overall goal of the BRAIN initiative to map and understand the circuitry of the brain.  These self-initiated collaborations will be capitalized upon in the federal Requests for Applications (RFAs) and funding opportunities.  As the individual agencies begin to solicit research ideas and fund BRAIN initiative research projects in line with their missions, the federal-level coordination will likely happen as more discoveries are made and additional gaps in brain research are identified.  The BRAIN Initiative grand challenge includes the contributions of the NIH ($40 million), the National Science Foundation (NSF) ($20 million), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) ($50 million) along with a number of private sector partners.  The NIH investment in FY 2014 is expected to continue at a minimum of $40 million a year in the out-years.

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