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NIH Announces First $46M in BRAIN Initiative Research

Funding will support more than 100 investigators developing new tools for understanding brain circuitry and viewing the brain in action
September 30, 2014

Scientists funded by the NIH BRAIN Initiative hope to diagram all of the circuits in the brain, including the connections in the retina’s ganglion cells (red). They transmit visual information from bipolar cells (green) and photoreceptors (purple) to the brain. Credit: Josh Morgan/ Rachel Wong, University of Washington

(Sept. 30, 2014) The National Institutes of Health has announced the first $46 million in research funding for its Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The funding will support 58 research projects aimed at developing new technologies to understand brain circuitry and view the brain in action.

The ultimate goal is to use deeper understanding of the brain to produce new treatments for brain disorders such as autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury. The World Health Organization estimates that such disorders affect more than a billion people worldwide.

“This is a game-changing investment that will transform the landscape of brain research in the near term and promises to lay the groundwork for breakthroughs that will be felt by people and families living with autism,” says neuroscientist Dan Smith, Autism Speaks senior director for discovery science. "The technologies at the heart of the project will improve brain monitoring in real-time and enable us to link signs and symptoms of autism to their precise sources."

“How do the billions of cells in our brain control our thoughts, feelings and movements? That’s ultimately what the BRAIN Initiative is about,” says Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “Understanding this will greatly help us meet the rising challenges that brain disorders pose for the future health of the nation.”

The 58 projects announced today include:

* the creation of a wearable scanner that produces images of the human brain in action,

* laser technology able to guide nerve-cell firing, 

* a device that stimulates specific brain circuits with radio waves, 

* and a method for identifying complex brain circuits with DNA “barcodes.”


Most of the research projects share the common goal of advancing understanding of how specific brain circuits function. Altogether, they will involve more than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries.

“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works,” says NIH Director Francis Collins. “This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey, and we’re excited about the possibilities.”

Last year, President Obama launched the BRAIN Initiative as a large-scale effort to equip researchers with the tools needed to advance the treatment of a wide variety of brain disorders. Four federal agencies — NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — have already committed more than $110 million to the initiative for the fiscal year 2014.

Following the funding announcement, the White House hosted a three-hour press conference announcing new federal and private sector commitments to the BRAIN Initiative.

In a written statement, President Obama said:

“Last year, I launched the BRAIN Initiative to help unlock the mysteries of the brain, to improve our treatment of conditions like Alzheimer’s and autism and to deepen our understanding of how we think, learn and remember. I’m pleased to announce new steps that my Administration is taking to support this critical research, and I’m heartened to see so many private, philanthropic and academic institutions joining this effort.”

During the press conference, White House officials announced that two more federal agencies are adding their support to the Brain Initiative: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). In addition, private industry partners including GE, Google and GlaxoSmithKline have promised to provide infrastructure and assets valued at more than $30 million. And several private foundations and universities have pledged to align more than $240 million in related research funding.

For descriptions of all the newly funded NIH BRAIN initiative research projects, click here.

View the 3-hour White House press conference, featuring researchers discussing their new projects, below.