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Federal BRAIN project seeks new tools, technologies

January 2, 2014
by Richard R. Rogoski
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced six funding opportunities for those who can develop new tools and technologies to support the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

According to a press release announcing the funding opportunities, three federal agencies—the NIH, the National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA—expect to contribute a total of $110 million in fiscal year 2014. NIH's contribution of $40 million in fiscal year 2014 is in addition to the nearly $5.5 billion included in that agency's 2014 fiscal year budget for neuroscience research.

In explaining the importance of this initiative, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, said: "The human brain is one of the most complicated structures in the known universe. We have an unprecedented opportunity to develop new technologies that will allow us to map the circuits of the brain, measure activity within those circuits, and understand how their interactions maintain health and modulate human behavior."

In an interim report released by the BRAIN Working Group, a number of high-priority research areas were identified which ultimately may shed more light on dementia and Alzheimer's disease. These include:

Link neuronal activity to behavior. "The clever use of virtual reality, machine learning, and miniaturized recording devices has the potential to dramatically increase our understanding of how neuronal activity underlies cognition and behavior. This path can be enabled by developing technologies to quantify and interpret animal behavior, at high temporal and spatial resolution, reliably, objectively, over long periods of time, under a broad set of conditions, and in combination with concurrent measurement and manipulation of neuronal activity."

Create mechanisms to enable collection of human data. "Humans who are undergoing diagnostic brain monitoring or receiving neurotechnology for clinical applications provide an extraordinary opportunity for scientific research. This setting enables research on human brain function, the mechanisms of human brain disorders, the effect of therapy, and the value of diagnostics. Meeting this opportunity requires closely integrated research teams including clinicians, engineers, and scientists, all performing according to the highest ethical standards of clinical care and research. New mechanisms are needed to maximize the collection of this priceless information and ensure that it benefits people with brain disorders."

Delineate mechanisms underlying human imaging technologies. "We must improve spatial resolution and/or temporal sampling of human brain imaging techniques, and develop a better understanding of cellular mechanisms underlying commonly measured human brain signals (fMRI, Diffusion Weighted MRI (DW MRI), EEG, MEG, PET)—for example, by linking fMRI signals to cellular-resolution population activity of neurons and glia contained within the imaged voxel, or by linking DW MRI connectivity information to axonal anatomy. Understanding these links will permit more effective use of clinical tools for manipulating circuit activity, such as deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation."

Grant awards will be announced in September.