BRAIN Initiative Research Priorities in FY2014: Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Releases Interim Report

BRAIN Initiative Research Priorities in FY2014:
Advisory Committee to the NIH Director Releases Interim Report

Legislative Update
September 16, 2013

Today, a Working Group of the Advisory Committee to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. released an Interim Report identifying high priority research areas that should be considered for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 funding. Prior, on April 2, President Obama announced that he would seek $100 million in funding for the initiative in his FY2014 budget proposal, including $40 million at NIH, $50 million at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and $20 million at the National Science Foundation (NSF), in addition to the federal government partnering with companies, foundations, and private research institutions that are already investing in relevant neuroscience research.

The Working Group, which is composed of 15 researchers (with vision research well represented) and a representative each from NIH, DARPA, and NSF, has identified “the analysis of circuits of interacting neurons” as being particularly rich in opportunity for revolutionary advances. For example, by understanding normal brain function, researchers can better understand 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 the past four months, the Working Group met seven times and held workshops across the United States (San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Minneapolis) to discuss priorities. One underlying theme was the importance of technology-that is, the development and use of tools for acquiring fundamental insight about how the nervous system functions in health and disease. Based on discussions, the Working Group developed these nine high-priority research areas for FY2014 funding:

  • Generate a Census of Cell Types
  • Create Structural Maps of the Brain
  • Develop New Large-Scale Network Recording Capabilities
  • Develop a Suite of Tools for Circuit Manipulation
  • Link Neuronal Activity to Behavior
  • Integrate Theory, Modeling, Statistics, and Computation with Experimentation
  • Delineate Mechanisms Underlying Human Imaging Technologies
  • Create Mechanisms to Enable Collection of Human Data
  • Disseminate Knowledge and Training

Although the report does not specifically address visual processing, it does use color vision as an example of neural coding-that is, how information about the environment, the individual’s needs, motivational states, and previous experience are represented in the electrical and chemical activity of the neurons in the circuit.

Since Congress has not yet finalized FY2014 appropriations, likely defaulting to a three-month Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, the level of BRAIN Initiative funding available is currently uncertain. Dr. Collins has stated that NIH is already investing about $5.5 billion in neuroscience research, primarily through the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, which engages 15 NIH Institutes and Centers (I/Cs) including the National Eye Institute (NEI), and which will be taking a leading role.