NINDS: A look back at 2015 Reply

2015 was a remarkable year for neuroscience. The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences went to three neuroscientists for their pioneering work in optogenetics and Alzheimer’s disease. The BRAIN Initiative® teams are developing breakthrough tools to probe neural circuit activity. NIH issued 67 new BRAIN Initiative® awards to 131 investigators working at 125 institutions, bringing the year’s investment in the ambitious project to $85 million. And Alzheimer’s disease research received a massive boost external link from Congress. The National Institute of Aging (NIA) will receive $350 million to learn more about the devastating neurodegenerative disease and discover new treatments, with NINDS directing some of those funds for projects on Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias.

As we look back over the year, there were many outstanding scientific advances by NINDS-funded scientists working on the NIH campus or in universities and research institutions across the country and the world. These advances represent progress toward the Institute’s goal of understanding the normal function of the brain and the biology underlying disorders of the nervous system. The ultimate goal of bringing effective new treatments to patients who suffer from neurological disorders remains a difficult one, but each year brings us closer to real breakthroughs. What follows are just a few examples of the many remarkable basic, clinical, and translational research supported by NINDS.

We encourage you to learn more about the amazing discoveries made by NINDS scientists in 2015 by visiting our news pages, reviewing messages and blog posts from the NINDS Director and other NINDS staff, and exploring the details of our myriad research programs.

Click an image below to access a slide show of NINDS-funded research discoveries in 2015.

State of current NINDS-funded pain research 3

Posted by Michael Oshinsky
Program Director, Pain and Migraine, NINDS

A number of NIH institutes fund pain research and coordinate their activities in the NIH Pain Consortium.  NINDS funds a broad portfolio of research studying acute and chronic pain, ranging from basic research of the cellular, molecular, genetic, and behavioral basis of chronic pain to clinical studies of potential pharmacological treatments. Below is a summary of some currently funded projects supported by NINDS, which are poised to make significant discoveries in our understanding of pain and its treatment. More…

The NINDS Research Program Award (RPA) – piloting a new approach to funding neuroscience research 5

Posted by Robert Finkelstein
Director, Division of Extramural Research, NINDS

For many years, the R01 (Research Project Grant) has been the go-to mechanism through which NIH supports investigator-initiated research. As most of you know, an R01 award supports an individual project described prospectively by an investigator in a grant application. During the last 60+ years, many biomedical breakthroughs originated in laboratories that were stably funded through one or more long-running R01 grants.

Unfortunately, life has become more challenging for principal investigators (PIs) and the labs that they oversee. The doubling of the NIH budget (1998-2003) led to a sharp increase in the number of investigators applying for funding. In addition, the NIH budget has failed to keep pace with inflation, leading to dramatic declines in the funding “paylines” of most NIH Institutes. For example, at NINDS our payline dropped from 26% during the doubling to 12% in 2006, and is currently set at 14%. Even worse, these declining funding rates have come at a time of unprecedented opportunities in basic and applied neuroscience. More…

Overview of the January 2015 National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council Reply

Further discussion of a concept for an innovative new funding mechanism (had been discussed at the previous Council), as well as concept approval for clinical studies related to emergency medicine and adolescent brain development, headlined the January 2015 National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council (NANDSC), my first as acting Institute Director.

Following my opening remarks about important NINDS-related news, which I address at the end of this message, Director of the NINDS Division of Extramural Research Bob Finkelstein introduced a proposal for a new funding mechanism (the R35) that would give principal investigators (PIs) broad, sustained, and flexible support for their research programs. More…

How stroke prevention promotes healthy brain aging 1

Throughout life, a person’s mental faculties are in a constant state of change. For example, mathematicians reach their maximum mental productivity in their 3rd decade. Most people begin to experience very gradual decline in mental abilities as a normal part of healthy aging. Normal age-related changes in cognition are in part due to the limited capacity of the brain’s nerve cells to regenerate. Indeed our brains become smaller with age. However, after our seventh or eighth decade, an accelerated loss of mental function may signify onset of dementia or less severe abnormal cognitive decline. More…

NIH Blueprint: 10-year, Trans-NIH Effort to Advance Neuroscience Requests New Ideas from Scientific Community 3

Multi-colored picture of the human brain from different angles depicting brain activityOver the past century, researchers have made incredible progress in understanding the anatomy, cell biology, physiology, and chemistry of the brain. Yet fundamental mysteries remain, such as how neural activity translates into behavior and why brain function declines with age. Diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system represent some of the greatest challenges to modern medicine, and it is imperative that we develop effective ways of preventing and treating these devastating conditions. Recent advances in neuroimaging, genomics, computational neuroscience, engineering, and other disciplines have ushered in a new great era in neuroscience, during which we can expect to make transformative discoveries regarding brain function in health, aging and disease.

The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research (Blueprint) aims to accelerate these discoveries. Blueprint, a collaboration among 15 participating NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices (ICs) that supports research on the nervous system, seeks to enhance cooperative activities and to accelerate the pace of discovery and understanding in neuroscience research. Blueprint was initiated in 2004 by the NIH Director (Dr. Elias Zerhouni), based on the premise that, by pooling resources and expertise, Blueprint ICs can take advantage of economies of scale, confront challenges too large for any single IC, and develop research tools and infrastructure that will serve the entire neuroscience community. More…

Patients with Tremor Benefit from NINDS-funded “Smart Spoon” 5

The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. Mostly when we think of that last part, about reducing burden, we think about translating basic neuroscience research into pharmaceuticals, implantable devices, and other treatments such as gene therapy or stem cell therapy. However, reducing burden is not always accomplished through clinical intervention. Sometimes it simply means restoring happiness, comfort, or dignity to suffering patients.

Recently, a new product funded in part by NINDS Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants has hit the market with the potential to reduce the burden of nearly 11 million individuals worldwide with essential tremor (ET), Parkinson’s disease, and related disorders. Individuals with these disorders experience persistent tremors—or rhythmic shaking—throughout their body, though sufferers of ET shake mostly in their hands. The new product, called the Liftware Stabilizer, is a spoon that counteracts tremors that occur in patients’ hands and helps minimize spills that can make eating in social situations an anxiety-inducing affair.

The way the spoon works is that sensors embedded in the handle detect tremors, which are then compensated for by tiny motors. For example, as the shaking hand dips unexpectedly downward, the motors push the bowl of the spoon upwards relative to the handle just enough to offset the movement. A sharp movement to the right causes the motors to push the bowl back to the left. The net result is that the spoon stays steady and level, even during severe tremors. Attachments can be swapped out to convert the spoon into a fork and a deeper spoon for soup.

Diagram of the the NINDS-funded Smart Spoon highligting the following components: battery (ultra-thin rechargeable battery will last for several days on a charge); stabilizing technology (cutting-edge electronics will work to actively detect and stabilize your tremor; multiple attachments (fork, soup spoon, keyholder, and more are coming soon).

The Liftware Stabilizer is made by Lift Labs, a San Francisco-based company that was recently acquired by Google’s Life Sciences division as part of the tech company’s recent flurry of biotechnology firm acquisitions. In addition, the company has raised enough money through foundations and charitable contributions to donate a few hundred spoons to folks who could not otherwise afford one. More…

NINDS: A look back at 2014 2

Over the past year, we at NINDS have celebrated many great successes in neuroscience. We awarded the first wave of grants for The BRAIN InitiativeSM to over 100 investigators, and new funding opportunities to fulfill the cross-disciplinary goals of BRAIN have been issued with more to come in 2015. The Nobel Assembly presented the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to neuroscientists for their discoveries of the neurons responsible for processing the brain’s positioning system. Perhaps most exciting of all, in 2014 NINDS-sponsored investigators published over 7,500 peer-reviewed scientific articles ranging from studies that push the boundaries of fundamental knowledge of the nervous system to translational studies that apply basic research concepts to studies that advance clinical diagnostics and treatments to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

Truly, 2014 yielded many exciting moments for neuroscience and we could never summarize them all in a single blog post. What follows are a handful of examples of the stellar research being conducted by NINDS-funded investigators working here on the NIH campus or in universities and research institutions across the country and world. We encourage you to learn more about the amazing discoveries uncovered by NINDS scientists in 2014 by visiting our news pages, reviewing messages and blog posts from the NINDS Director, and exploring the details of our myriad research programs.

Click an image below to access a slide show of NINDS-funded research discoveries in 2014.

Center Without Walls Established to Tackle Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy 1

In September, NINDS issued awards for the creation of a new center to research sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), the sudden and premature death of a person with epilepsy without apparent or known cause of death. SUDEP is the most common cause of premature mortality in human epilepsy. Unlike many NIH center programs, the Center for SUDEP Research will not be confined to a single institution. This unique consortium is the second of NINDS’s Epilepsy “Centers without Walls” (CWOW), which is a program designed to bring together the best expertise from across U.S. and international institutions to address a challenging research problem for people with epilepsy. The Center for SUDEP Research includes dozens of scientists who are armed with the basic science, computational, genetic, and clinical tools necessary to better understand and develop interventions to prevent this devastating consequence of living with epilepsy.

Evidence suggests that SUDEP may be caused by seizures that induce structural defects and/or brain circuit malfunction in brain stem areas (highlighted in pink) that control cardiovascular and/or respiratory functions.

Evidence suggests that SUDEP may be caused by seizures that induce structural defects and/or brain circuit malfunction in brain stem areas (highlighted in pink) that control cardiovascular and/or respiratory functions. Credit: Patrick J. Lynch, variation by User: Hk kng [CC-BY_SA-3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons

While the causes of SUDEP are currently unclear, mounting evidence points to seizures that induce structural defects and/or brain circuit malfunction in areas that control cardiovascular and/or respiratory functions. Using a multidisciplinary approach, scientists and clinicians participating in the new center without walls hope to understand what causes SUDEP and how can it be prevented.

One team of researchers will identify genes, predisposition to neurochemical imbalances, and structural irregularities in the brain that may increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory disruptions in epilepsy. In parallel, another team will develop a sophisticated repository for storing and sharing genetic, tissue and clinical data samples collected from 400 study participants with epilepsy per year for three years at each of 10 clinical sites across the country. This team will also analyze the collected samples to identify risk factors for SUDEP. More…

Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program Recruits 1,000th Subject Reply

Posted by Story Landis

PDBPbanner (2)

Last month the 1,000th subject was enrolled in the Parkinson’s Disease Biomarkers Program (PDBP), marking a major milestone in the efforts of NINDS to develop a method to predict the early onset—and track the progression—of this debilitating neurological disorder.

We have made considerable progress in developing treatments, but people with Parkinson’s still suffer. While current treatments are most effective at alleviating early symptoms of the disease, symptoms in later stages are less responsive, and no intervention has been found to slow disease progression or prevent it. Like many neurological diseases, the search for better Parkinson’s treatments has been hindered by the fact that symptoms—including uncontrollable shaking, rigidity, and impaired balance—only start appearing well after the disease has begun to cause significant changes in the brain. More…