September 30 is the last day of the fiscal year for the US government. So it's no coincidence that President Obama's BRAIN Initiative1 ended the year with a bang. The NIH BRAIN Awards were announced on the last possible day of FY2014, coinciding with the White House BRAIN Conference. A total of $46 million was dispersed among 58 awards involving over 100 scientists.
- Census of Cell Types (RFA MH-14-215)
- Tools for Cells and Circuits (RFA MH-14-216)
- Next Generation Human Imaging (RFA MH-14-217)
- Large-Scale Recording-Modulation - New Technologies (RFA NS-14-007)
- Large-Scale Recording-Modulation - Optimization (RFA NS-14-008)
- Understanding Neural Circuits (RFA NS-14-009)
I watched most of the conference live stream. The entire video is now available for viewing on YouTube (and conveniently embedded at the bottom of this post). Below are a few idiosyncratic highlights.
I missed the early announcements (e.g., that the correct hashtag was #WHBRAIN) and introduction of the first speaker, a female graduate student. Next was John Holdren, senior advisor to the President on science and technology issues. My notes from his talk consisted of a series of buzz words and phrases, befitting a politician:
“dynamic understanding of how the brain works”
“at the speed of thought”
“new generation tools and technology”
quoting Obama: “Americans can accomplish anything we set our minds to.”
The first year budget is $100 million, with another $300 million allocated so far. A recurrent theme was the need for a sustained commitment to funding. Holdren (and others) mentioned the 12 year strategy for NIH, BRAIN 2025, which focuses on technologies, cells, and circuits.
The disconnect with reality came when he mentioned the burden of brain disorders and the prospect of curing them:
“Imagine if no family had to grapple with the helplessness and heartache of watching of a loved with Parkinson's or traumatic brain injury. Imagine if Alzheimer's or ALS or chronic depression were eradicated in our lifetimes.” [NOTE: Holdren is 70]
Ultimately we'd all like to eradicate these diseases, but that's not going to happen by 2025. Is it a good idea to mislead the public about the immediate clinical treatments arising from the NIH BRAIN Awards? How do we educate the public about the importance of basic science and technology development? DARPA is taking a different approach with their fast-tracking of deep brain stimulation treatments in humans. Their goals are even more ambitious: over a 5 year period, conduct clinical trials in human patients with 7 specified psychiatric and neurological disorders, some of which have never been treated with DBS.
Moving right along to the first panel, Cori Bargmann and Mark Schnitzer both did a fine job of discussing advances in circuits/networks and engineering/technology (see Storify below). The next panelists were clinician/researchers Geoffrey Manley on traumatic brain injury and Kerry Ressler on post-traumatic stress disorder. Ressler was bullish on new PTSD therapies, suggesting that it might be the most tractable psychiatric disorder. Manley, on the other hand, had a sobering assessment of TBI treatments derived from cellular neurobiology, noting that the field is on its 32nd or 33rd failed clinical trial.2
This is probably not what the White House wanted to hear, particularly since this panel was brought on to slyly connect the NIH BRAIN Awards to clinical disorders. But this is exactly what people need to hear to understand the utter complexity of trying to cure brain disorders, or at least treat them more effectively.
NEW! Indispensable coverage of Next Generation Human Imaging
(by @practiCal fMRI):
i-fMRI: My initial thoughts on the BRAIN Initiative proposals
A Tale of Two BRAINS: #BRAINI and DARPA's SUBNETS
BRAIN Initiative Funding Opportunites at NIH
Humble BRAIN 2025
And the DARPA deep brain stimulation awards go to...
1 The BRAIN Initiative badge should be awarded by President Obama to research supported by his $100+ million Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative. This bold research effort will include advances in nanotechnology and purely exploratory efforts to record from thousands of neurons simultaneously. Recipients of BRAIN Awards from NIH, DARPA, and NSF are free to use this fictitious badge made by me.
2 The failure of a very promising clinical trial of progesterone for TBI was very recently announced ("based on 17 years of work with 200 positive papers in pre-clinical models"), although I couldn't find it. Here's the listing in ClinicalTrials.gov.
Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]