NIH Advocates for BRAIN Initiative in Tight Funding Environment
“We recognize that now is a tough environment for the science community and that funding for scientific research is tight,” NIH Director Francis Collins said. “But we are trying to do the right thing as the stewards of public health. We will continue to make investments in the future of our country, its economy and its health.”
Collins was addressing congressional staff and advocacy groups at the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus briefing June 12 on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the American Brain Coalition, SfN and the American Academy of Neurology. He was joined by Story Landis, Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), to talk with legislators and their staffs about the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotherapeutics.
Collins and Landis spoke passionately about the need to advance the neuroscience field, even in the challenging environment.
“The momentum is now to accelerate the design of innovative technologies that can offer real-time pictures of the brain showing how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact,” Collins said. “We think the science is so compelling that we will go ahead and start the BRAIN Initiative in FY14 even if there is no continuing resolution by Congress. We dream of a stable projector for brain research in the future.”
Despite unstable funding, Collins and Landis are enthusiastic about the new presidential focus on revolutionizing understanding of the brain and “unraveling what we don’t yet know.” NIH will invest $40 million in seed money in FY14. Other government partners are the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency ($50 million) and the National Science Foundation ($20 million).
The NIH investment comes on the heels of the March 2013 sequestration that required NIH to cut its FY13 budget of $1.55 billion by 5 percent, applied to all 27 NIH institutes and centers. As a result, approximately 700 fewer competitive research project grants will be issued by NIH than in FY12. For every six applications submitted to NIH for funding, Collins said, only one will be funded.
Why BRAIN Now
Collins described several discoveries made over the last 10 years that provide a platform “to unlock the mysteries of the brain,” including human genome sequencing, tools for mapping neural connections, and enhanced imaging technologies. These developments, along with discoveries in optogenetics and nanotechnology, make it the right time to accelerate brain research, Collins said, adding that scientific discoveries in these fields will have a ripple effect, possibly triggering new areas of research.
The Initiative’s goal is to develop the next generation of tools to enable researchers to record brain cell signals in greater numbers and faster speeds.
How the Initiative will Work
A 15-member high-level BRAIN Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director will shape and oversee the project. Cornelia Bargmann, PhD of The Rockefeller University, and William Newsome, PhD of Stanford University, are co-chairing the effort. Their charge is to make recommendations on the scientific goals, projected milestones, timetable, and cost estimates for BRAIN.
The Working Group is seeking broad input from scientists and the public, and will produce an interim report this summer with recommendations for high priority investments in FY14. The final report is expected to go to Collins in June 2014.
To inform the effort, the Working Group has scheduled four regional meetings around the country, all of which include public comment sessions. The first took place in San Francisco in May, and the second in June in New York City. The third meeting is scheduled for on July 29 in Boston, and the final will be held on August 29 in Minneapolis. You must register to attend and can do so on the NIH website (www.nih.gov/science/brain).
The BRAIN Initiative is meant to be a long-term project that will include input from grassroots advocacy organizations.
“We want to know what would be most helpful to you,” Landis said. “Tell us how we can incorporate your views, positions, and needs. We want the entire community to embrace, understand and support this Initiative, not just scientists, doctors, and patients.”
NIH is seeking input on BRAIN through its website and other outreach. Those interested in BRAIN can visit the NIH site regularly to follow the Initiative’s work, offer suggestions, and help promote engagement with others by spreading the word.
“We believe this Initiative will be transformative across a whole spectrum of diseases,” and it therefore affects everyone, Landis said.