BRAIN Initiative Conference and Opportunity to Inform Next Phase of Funding

April 26, 2019

A Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative working group has released a draft report for public comment. This is an opportunity for the FABBS community to bring attention to important cognitive and behavioral research and potential contributions to the next phase of the BRAIN Initiative.

The draft document includes 8 priority areas, and feedback that the community provides will inform the final report to the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) for consideration at its meeting on June 13 and 14, 2019. Released on April 17, the brief 30-day public comment period will close on May 15. Specifically, the working group is asking for feedback on research priorities; training and dissemination; data sharing, and neuroethics. 

To date, the BRAIN Initiative has not prioritized advancing technologies related to cognitive and behavioral brain science. The priority area on Human Neuroscience would be strengthened with input from our community.  The final report will be the basis for future funding opportunities. FABBS will submit comments on behalf of the community. Please flag any concerns and share ideas and recommendation to by May 10. In addition, please consider submitting individual comments directly. 

By way of example, please see a presentation by Nora S. Newcombe, FABBS board president, and Jeffrey M. Zacks, FABBS board member, presented to the BRAIN Team for Integrative and Quantitative Approaches. Their presentation identified several technological, statistical, and paradigmatic frontiers where methods development is essential to maximizing knowledge about humans. Examples included imaging and eye movement technologies that allow for neural readout of ambulatory and behaving humans, computational analytic techniques that allow us to efficiently analyze large behavioral datasets, and research to assess the comparability of behavioral paradigms used with humans and non-human animals.

The release of the report follows a three-day conference of BRAIN Initiative principal investigators and interested parties. Taking place in Washington, DC, the meeting began with a Capitol Hill reception to celebrate the researchers who are advancing our understanding of the brain. The event was hosted by the American Brain Coalition – of which FABBS is a member – in partnership with the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus. Caucus co-chair, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), provided remarks on the role of the BRAIN Initiative to accelerate the advancement of neuroscience research.  Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), member of the relevant Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke about his commitment to increase funding for NIH.

Dr. Josh Gordon, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Walter Koroshotz, Director of the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and Dr. Joanne Tornow, Director of the Biological Sciences Directorate, National Science Foundation provided welcoming remarks. Please see a summary and recording. In the absence of a BRAIN Initiative Director, Dr. Gordon and Dr. Koroshotz have been acting as co-directors.

ACD Initiative Working Group 2.0 co-chairs, Catherine Dulac, Harvard, and John Maunsell, University of Chicago, addressed attendees at a town hall meeting. Dulac and Maunsell congratulated PIs on the BRAIN initiative-supported advances made in understanding  ‘the most complicated structure in the universe’, reflected in over 600 publications, reportedly. The co-chairs laid out the process moving forward as they prepare for the second phase of the BRAIN Initiative.

Also at the conference, NPR reporter, Jon Hamilton, spoke about his work covering science to improve health raising several points of interest to FABBS members. In his remarks, Hamilton identified several challenges when covering behavioral science. For example, he explained that addressing depression requires measures of behavior – and that is really complicated. He also described a difference in public’s expectations for different scientific disciplines. When hearing about topics surrounding outer space, the public is easily interested and convinced of its value. However, when news is about brain research, the public is often unsure of how it can serve them.

While behavioral and cognitive scientists have the opportunity to apply to numerous BRAIN FOAs, NIMH currently has an active FOA specifically on behavior. The Development and Optimization of Tasks and Measures for Functional Domains of Behavior Funding Opportunity is open through January 2022 with standard review dates, three times per year.