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Vision “Does Well” in First Round of BRAIN 2025 Awards

Legislative Update
October 10, 2014

On September 30, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced $46 million in initial awards associated with BRAIN 2025, formerly known as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative (BI). More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action. Commenting on the awards, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. stated:


NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
“There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible. These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain. This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited
about the possibilities.”
On October 9 at the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) National Advisory Eye Council (NAEC) meeting, NEI Director Paul Sieving, M.D, Ph.D. added context to NIH’s announcement, stating that “vision did very well.” Of the 58 total awards, 18 went to teams with NEI-supported Principal Investigators (PIs), while another six were vision-centered proposals, and out of the $46 million awarded, $16 million went to the teams with NEI-supported PIs, while another $6 million went to the vision-centered proposals. NEI also announced initial plans to create a Brain Consortium within the Institute that focuses on the retinal and visual cortex and serves to facilitate data exchange among researchers.

The BI, announced in April 2013 by President Obama, was proposed to be funded in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 at $110 million, with $40 million from NIH, $50 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and $20 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), in addition to funding from private foundations, private research institutions, and industry. NIH’s initial $40 million commitment grew by $6 million with the addition of funding from the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). NEI contributes through its participation in the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint Initiative, which engages 15 of the NIH Institutes and Centers (I/Cs) and already invests $5.5 billion in neuroscience research.

In June 2014, a BI Working Group of the Advisory Committee to Dr. Collins, composed of 15 researchers (with vision well represented) and a representative each from NIH, DARPA, and NSF, released its final report of recommendations, following a September 2013 Interim Report. The Working Group, which called for $4.5 billion in funding for brain research over the next twelve years, identified the “analysis of circuits of interacting neurons” as particularly rich in opportunity for revolutionary advances. They also stressed that by understanding normal brain function, researchers can better determine perturbations associated with neurological and psychological disorders, as well as develop treatments to repair physical damage caused by stroke, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), and spinal cord injuries.

In that regard, they cited retinal research as a potential “flagship” in understanding brain function. They also discussed how this understanding will advance clinical research, citing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Argus II Retinal Prosthesis, which assists blind individuals to sense contrast in light, as an example of how patients may benefit.

For FY2015, the President’s budget has proposed increasing BRAIN 2025 funding to $200 million, with $100 million from NIH and the remainder from DARPA and NSF.