Funding the Brain

The flow of funds from government agencies for neurotech research continues to be significant in 2017. As we report in our article on page 1 of this issue, DARPA recently awarded $65 million in new contracts to research institutions and commercial firms as part of its Neural Engineering System Design program.

DARPA is not the only federal agency with new funding for neurotechnology research. At the BIO 2017 meeting in San Diego last month, Stephanie Fertig from the NIH’s National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke described some new programs funded as part of the BRAIN initiative. One program, called Next Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human Central Nervous System, supports translational and clinical studies. It also draws upon the NIH’s public-private partnership program, which facilitates partnerships between clinical investigators and manufacturers of implantable electrodes. Currently, six neurotech vendors, including Medtronic, Blackrock, Boston Scientific, NeuroPace, NeuroNexus, and Second Sight, have participated in the program.

The BRAIN 2025 report calls for an escalating budget to reach $500 million per year by fiscal year 2019, for a total 12-year budget of $4.5 billion. This total is reflective of the BRAIN Initiative’s ambitious goals, but it is proposed within the context of overall NIH funding for neuroscience research, which reached $5.7 billion per year in 2015.

On the panel with Fertig was Nick Spitzer from the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC San Diego and codirector of the San Diego Brain Consortium. He reported on international and regional funding opportunities for neurotechnology researchers. The European Human Brain Project, launched in 2013, provides funding in a number of related areas, including neurorobotics, brain simulation, and neuromorphic computing. The Japanese Brain/MINDS Project, launched in 2014, provides funds for brain mapping and studies of primate brains. The Chinese Brain Project, launched in 2016, provides government funding for study of the neural basis of cognitive function, diagnosis and prevention of brain disease, and brain-inspired artificial intelligence. Spitzer also highlighted the Cal-BRAIN Act, passed by the California state legislature in 2014 with an initial budget of $2 million.

The combined efforts of federal, state, and foreign government programs that fund neurotech research have created an optimistic outlook for the neurotech industry in the years ahead. It is up to us now to demonstrate to the taxpayers in these regions that their investment will pay off in the form of new therapies and technologies that will improve the lives of citizens across the globe.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher

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