Funding for Neurotech Research Continues to Grow

by Margot Puerta, contributing editor

September 2019 issue

Neurotech firms and research institutions can look forward to increasing levels of government funding in the years ahead. Much of that support will come from several DARPA programs targeting neurotechnology. The NIH recently announced it has awarded $945 million in FY 2019 through the HEAL initiative, which will help fund new neuromodulation therapies for treating chronic pain and opioid abuse.

Another key source of funding is the National Science Foundation, which established the Next Generation Networks for Neuroscience program in 2016. The goal of NeuroNex was to develop a set of technological resources in support of a national infrastructure for neuroscience research. The NSF earmarked up to $30 million for the program and seventeen awards were granted in 2017. A new phase of the NeuroNex program was announced earlier this year calling for international, team-based neuroscience research into foundational neuroscience problems. The U.S., together with Canada, Germany, and the U.K., will award in excess of $20 million towards the initiative.

In conjunction with the BRAIN Initiative, the NSF established Understanding the Brain, a multi-year effort aimed at “enabling scientific understanding of the full complexity of the brain in action and in context.” NeuroNex was created as a component of Understanding the Brain.

Nine of the 17 NeuroNex awards were for neurotechnology hubs to develop, refine, and disseminate innovative neurotechnologies. More specifically, the hubs planned to provide new approaches to measure and manipulate circuit activity, new approaches for imaging structure and dynamics of neural circuits, and new materials and devices for large-scale electrical recordings of neural activity. Additional awards were granted to theory teams and innovation teams to unravel how the structure and dynamics of neurons give rise to behavior as well as development of revolutionary, early stage tools, respectively.

“Through the development of advanced instrumentation to observe and model the brain, we’re closer to our goal of building a more complete knowledge base about how neural activity produces behavior,” said Jim Olds, former NSF assistant director, biological sciences. While technology was one aspect of the initial NeuroNex awards, dissemination was another. “NeuroNex is aimed at enabling researchers by providing access to these tools/resources and providing conceptual foundations so they can ask questions in a variety of species as appropriate,” said Sridhar Raghavachari, NeuroNex program director.

While the initial NeuroNex awards focused on building up our national infrastructure for neuroscience research and expanding access to new technologies, the next phase expands on global investments in neurotechnologies and calls for international collaborations. This past spring the NSF announced a new solicitation, NeuroNex: Technology-enabled, Team-based Neuroscience. This solicitation is an international partnership between the NSF and counterparts in Canada, Germany, and the U.K.

In order to understand the complexities of the brain, traditionally disparate disciplines will need to come together to approach fundamental neuroscience questions. Moreover, countries will need to work together and share resources, as described in the collaborative network concept of NeuroNex. This will allow a layered understanding not possible through the funding of an individual research project.

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