Details Emerge on Obama Brain Initiative Grants for the Neuroimaging Community

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On December 17, 2013 the NIH released 6 new funding opportunities in support of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, the widely publicized Presidential focus on revolutionizing our understanding of the brain. Among these announcements, one request for proposals stands out as an important opportunity for the neuroradiology community to participate in these efforts. According to RFA-MH-14-217, a total of $4 million – 10% of the total NIH BRAIN funding pool – has been allocated for advanced human brain imaging projects. As discussed by NIBIB Director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew on a recent informational conference call with members of the radiology community, this call for proposals is unique in several respects.

It should be emphasized that the award is not a traditional scientific grant intended to answer a specific scientific question. “It is an extended planning grant on steroids,” Dr. Pettigrew explained, one that is intended to seed further research on next generation human brain imaging. Up to 10 awards will be made for $300,000 per year for 3 years, an amount and duration that significantly exceed the limits of the usual R24 NIH mechanism. The award can be considered as the first phase in a two-phase effort, an initial planning phase aimed at generating teams and proof of principle data that will support a number of R01 grants that will be funded in the second implementation phase. The overarching goal, per Dr. Pettigrew, is to see “new human brain imaging modalities in 8 years.” The ideas that come out of this planning grant should thus be achievable within a 5-year R01.

It was also made clear during the phone call that this R24 grant seeks proposals that will develop completely new ways of imaging, not just modify or perfect existing imaging techniques. Pettigrew explained that investigators should focus on assembling “new interdisciplinary teams that introduce transformative ideas for next generation imaging,” in particular developing new methods for “imaging of molecules, cells and circuits.” Additional details regarding these awards are available in the grant announcement and in the comments released by the panel charged with prioritizing research areas. The deadline for receipt of applications is March 13, 2014.

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