Archive for the ‘neuroscience’ Tag

NIH Commits to 12-Year Plan for BRAIN Initiative

Credit: Koratmember at FreDigitalPhotos.net

Credit: Koratmember at FreDigitalPhotos.net

Last month a federal report was released calling for $4.5 billion in funding for brain research over the next 12 years. On June 5th, 2014 the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative was presented to NIH Director Francis Collins by his Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). The report, drafted by the ACD BRAIN Working Group, maps out a sustained commitment of $4.5 billion in new federal funding over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016, to achieve seven primary goals (see bullets below).

NIH has already announced an investment of $40 million in fiscal year 2014 and President Obama has made a request for $100 million for NIH’s component of the initiative in his fiscal year 2015 budget. The working group emphasized in its report that its cost estimates assume that the budget for the BRAIN Initiative will supplement — not supplant — NIH’s existing investment in the broader spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research.

The NIH efforts on the BRAIN Initiative will focus on mapping the circuits of the brain, measuring the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits, and understanding how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities.

The following seven scientific goals were identified as high priorities for achieving this vision:

  • Identify and provide experimental access to the different brain cell types to determine their roles in health and disease.
  • Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
  • Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.
  • Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
  • Produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.
  • Develop innovative technologies to understand the human brain and treat its disorders; create and support integrated brain research networks.
  • Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in the other goals to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.

The BRAIN Initiative is jointly led by NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and Food and Drug Administration. Private organizations are also committed to ensuring success through investment in the initiative.

About the ACD:

The ACD advises the NIH Director on policy matters important to the NIH mission of conducting and supporting biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and translating research results for the public. For more information on the ACD and the full agenda of this meeting, visit: http://acd.od.nih.gov/index.htm

 

 

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Seeing Beauty in Biology

Meg- Microscope Pic

Credit: Lemonade at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I started my career in a laboratory, spending countless happy hours doing cell culture work and bent over a microscope. I sometimes miss those quiet hours and the joy of doing delicate, precise work with my hands. I also miss the beautiful images under the microscope, especially of neurons. So it’s no wonder that the winning entry of the 2013 Visual Challenge knocked my socks off. Each year Science magazine and the National Science Foundation conduct an International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. The 2013 winners in each category were announced last month, and can be found here (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/343/6171/600.full).

This year’s winners in the Illustration category were Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards, Greg Dunn Design, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Marty Saggese, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, D.C.; Tracy Bale, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Rick Huganir, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

The winning entry in the Illustration category looks like Asian art—beautiful cortical neurons displayed like bare trees in winter, against a pastel background in muted tones. The Science magazine piece describes it thus:

Cortex in Metallic Pastels represents a stylized section of the cerebral cortex, in which axons, dendrites, and other features create a scene reminiscent of a copse of silver birch at twilight. An accurate depiction of a slice of cerebral cortex would be a confusing mess, Dunn says, so he thins out the forest of cells, revealing the delicate branching structure of each neuron.

“Dunn blows pigments across the canvas to create the neurons and highlights some of them in gold leaf and palladium… He hopes that lay viewers will see how the branching structures of neurons mirror so many other natural structures, from river deltas to the roots of a tree.”

This idea about the repetition of such visual themes throughout nature is bound to resonate with any biologist who has spent time at a microscope. I have been enjoying watching the remake of the wonderful television series Cosmos, and I must say that the images they show of space remind me strongly of many of the images I saw years ago at the microscope.

Not surprisingly, Greg Dunn earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and loves Asian art.  His works can be seen and purchased here (http://www.gregadunn.com/).

(And no, I have no financial interest in recommending Dr. Dunn’s art work—though I may buy a print for my office!)

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