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Vol. LXVI, No. 14
July 4, 2014
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‘Ambitious, But Realistic’
Bold 12-Year Vision for ‘BRAIN’ Embraced at ACD

On the front page...

Dr. Cori Bargmann delivers BRAIN initiative report at ACD meeting on June 5.
Dr. Cori Bargmann delivers BRAIN initiative report at ACD meeting on June 5.
Just more than a year after President Obama announced that NIH would undertake an initiative essentially to revolutionize our understanding of the brain, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins received what he called “this bold, multi-year plan about how this dream of understanding how the circuits in the brain actually work might come true.” A working group of the advisory committee to the NIH director (ACD) formally presented “BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision” to the entire ACD at its June 5 meeting. The committee voted unanimously to approve the report.

Collins immediately accepted the vision set forth, saying it would be used to guide NIH’s future investments in the initiative. In total, the plan calls for a sustained commitment of approximately $4.5 billion in new federal spending over 12 years.

“The hope is that this becomes a hub of activity with many spinoffs into disease specific research accelerating the pace of translation by providing this kind of new set of technologies and opportunities,” said Collins, emphasizing that the initiative’s efforts and resources should complement NIH’s $5.5 billion annual investment in basic, translational and clinical neuroscience research. “This should be very synergistic. We would not want this initiative to be off in a corner somewhere. It should be rubbing shoulders with—and exchanging ideas on a daily basis with—the disease-specific efforts.”

Continued...

Not ‘Neuroscience as Usual’

ACD member and working group cochair Dr. Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University delivered a slide show overview of the working group’s recommended strategy for tackling the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative.

Emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of the plan, she pointed out, “Neurotechnologies is the ‘N’ in BRAIN. It’s had a specific technology bias from the outset. There’s a realization that neuroscience as usual will not be sufficient to solve these problems. Therefore we must build on other areas such as genetics, molecular biology, physics and engineering, informatics, nanoscience, chemistry and mathematics.”

BRAIN’s goal is to map the circuits of the brain, measure the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits and understand how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities. The working group focused there because it “represents a critical hole in our understanding of brain processes,” Bargmann explained.

The working group’s interim report released last September identified 9 high-priority research areas; the final report honed those areas to 7. The first 5 years will emphasize technology development; the second 5 years will focus on discovery-driven science, using the newly developed tech tools to understand critical functions of how the brain works.

During a break in the 108th meeting of the advisory committee to the NIH director, ACD members Dr. David Ginsburg (l), Dr. Russ Altman and Dr. Harlan Krumholz chat. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins enjoys a light moment at the meeting. New ACD member Dr. Lisa Cooper raises a question, following the BRAIN initiative report.

During a break in the 108th meeting of the advisory committee to the NIH director, ACD members Dr. David Ginsburg (l), Dr. Russ Altman and Dr. Harlan Krumholz chat.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins enjoys a light moment at the meeting.



New ACD member Dr. Lisa Cooper raises a question, following the BRAIN initiative report.

The group also included numerous concrete short-term and long-term deliverables, sustained budget projections for the plan over the next 12 years and a vision for how brain research could potentially be accelerated decades into the future.

Report Draws Positive Reception

Collins praised the presentation, calling the full 135-page report, which had been distributed weeks earlier to ACD members, “an absolute joy to read, because it is so clearly and elegantly articulated.”

Working group cochair Dr. Bill Newsome of Stanford University, attending via phone from Norway, described the process leading to the recommendations.

“This has been a fascinating journey,” he said. “It’s been exhilarating at times when you do feel like you’re really looking around the corner and we can really see what’s coming. It has also been very sobering at times, when we realize how little we actually know about the brain, and how much work there is to do. In the end we feel like we did our intellectual homework...[the report] “presents an ambitious vision that calls for the very best that we have to give as a nation on some of the toughest problems that nature has to offer. It is ambitious, but we also feel like it’s realistic…We won’t reach all of these goals. Some of the goals are likely to change as we go along. We’ll realize there are new opportunities that we hadn’t even anticipated at the beginning, but we know we can reach a lot of these goals with proper support and with proper engagement of a broad scientific community.”

Around the table, ACD members unanimously applauded.

The ACD convenes in a Bldg. 31 conference room for its biannual meeting.

The ACD convenes in a Bldg. 31 conference room for its biannual meeting.

Photos: Bill Branson, Ernie Branson

“I think this is a tour de force,” said long-time member Dr. Reed Tuckson of Tuckson Health Connections. “It’s breathtakingly refreshing to have such a clear, transparent analysis of how difficult choices were made, why they were made…This should be a model.”

New member Dr. Huda Akil of the University of Michigan’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute said, “I’ve reviewed a lot of reports and this is the only one that makes my heart go pitter patter. It’s just amazing. As a working neuroscientist, it’s as close to perfection as I have seen…I want to address the clinical aspect. To my mind the clinical aspect isn’t just an extension of this effort—it demands this effort…Translation demands this level of analysis.”

Details and the full BRAIN report are online at www.nih.gov/science/brain/index.htm.

Action-Packed Last 6 Months

In his director’s report, Collins talked about several significant NIH events since the ACD last came together in December:

  • Recruitment of several “superb” senior staff members, including NIAAA director Dr. George Koob, and NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity Dr. Hannah Valantine and NIH associate director for data science Dr. Philip Bourne. (Both positions are new and prompted by ACD recommendations; Valantine and Bourne each addressed the ACD later during the meeting).

  • The annual Leadership Forum—discussion covered potential enhancements to the peer review system and the future of the Intramural Research Program. (NIH deputy director for intramural research Dr. Michael Gottesman presented an IRP review on day 2 of the ACD meeting.)

  • Campus special occasions such as visits by the Dalai Lama and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and dedication of the Porter Neuroscience Research Center.

  • Departure of Kathleen Sebelius as head of HHS and confirmation of new department Secretary Sylvia Burwell, who toured NIH last August as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
ACD meeting attendees included (from l) Dr. Peter MacLeish, NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew and Dr. Ian Lipkin.
ACD meeting attendees included (from l) Dr. Peter MacLeish, NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew and Dr. Ian Lipkin.

In addition, Collins also welcomed five new ACD members: Akil, Dr. Lisa Cooper of the Johns Hopkins Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities, Dr. Harlan Krumholz of Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Richard Lifton of Yale Center for Genome Analysis and Dr. Eric Goosby of the University of California, San Francisco.

Over the course of a day and a half, the ACD also discussed continuing concern over predicted flat and decreased U.S. funding of biomedical research; the growing problem of young investigators leaving science to pursue other, more lucrative fields; the science community-wide need to emphasize reproducibility of research results; updates from the HeLa and physician-scientist workforce working groups; and AIDS research priorities.

Public sessions of the ACD meeting are archived at http://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp.


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