NIH doles out first $46M round of BRAIN Initiative grants

Retinal ganglion cells (red) transmit visual cues from bipolar cells (green) and photoreceptors (purple) to the brain.--Courtesy of Josh Morgan, Rachel Wong/UW

President Obama's ambitious BRAIN Initiative--short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies--has awarded its first round of grants, totaling $46 million.

The grants will support the projects of more than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries aiming to better understand the brain through new tools and technologies.

The long-term goal of the BRAIN Initiative is that by gaining new insight into the neural circuit function of the brain, researchers will be able to design more effective drugs to treat a wide range of brain disorders and diseases.

Among the recipients of this round of grants are teams from leading biomedical institutions like MIT, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and others.

A $3 million grant to the Salk Institute will fund research on DNA methylation, which turns off genes and prevents certain proteins from being produced. The research will be used to create an epigenetic map of each cell type that can be connected with existing brain gene expression atlases and connection maps. The map is intended to serve as a reference comparison with maps for neurological disease states such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, to reveal more about neurological disease.

Another team, from West Virginia University, has received $1.5 million to develop a wearable, mobile molecular positron emission tomography imaging device capable of producing 3-D images of metabolism and other cellular processes of the brain during everyday activities, such as walking, playing a piano, or socializing. Traditional imaging techniques require a person being scanned to remain still, while this helmetlike device could be worn while in motion.

In an effort to better understand neuropsychiatric diseases, Brandeis University is using a $1.2 million grant for research on how brain cells have evolved specialized features.

Meanwhile, MIT has won more than $3 million spread out across 6 different projects, and Princeton University nabbed more than $2 million for two projects.

The grants are the first in a planned $4.5 billion investment in the BRAIN Initiative over the next 5 years.

- read more about the individual grants

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