Taking another look at the BRAIN Initiative

NIH seeks input on next phase: understanding brain circuitry.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released a  Request for Information (RFI; NOT-NS-18-075) soliciting feedback on the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative  The purpose of the RFI is to gain feedback on the vision, priorities and goals outlined in BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, the strategic plan for the BRAIN Initiative issued in 2014.

As discussed at the BRAIN Initiative Multi-Council Working Group in May (co-chaired by National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke director Walter Koroshetz and National Institute of Mental Health director Joshua Gordon), the BRAIN Initiative turned five years old in April 2018.  Due to the new opportunities that have emerged from the initiative’s first five years, there are plans to review the main priority areas in BRAIN 2025, reassess its goals and bolster areas that could benefit from further support.  A major aim is to identify new topics and questions in high priority research areas that can now be explored with the new tools and technologies that have been developed.  The timeline is to update the scientific vision by the summer of 2019 to guide the next five years of the research.

The RFI is soliciting input in five main areas:  1) ideas for new tools and technologies that have the potential to transform brain circuit research, 2) questions about brain circuit function in humans or animal models that could be addressed with new technologies, 3) considerations for data sharing infrastructure and policies, 4) questions about ethical implications of BRAIN-supported neurotechnologies and advancements, and 5) approaches for disseminating new tools and technologies, and training the broader neuroscience research community.

The BRAIN Initiative, launched by President Obama in April 2013, seeks to better understand the structure and function of the human brain and how it guides behavior through neural activity--from the level of the whole brain down to the level of a single cell.  In addition to the National Institutes of Health, there are a broad range of participants across many sectors: other federal agencies including the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and non-federal partners including foundations, research institutes, universities and industry, as well as several international organizations.

As discussed at the January 2018 meeting of the BRAIN Initiative Multi-Council Working Group, in the early years of the BRAIN Initiative, with the push to develop and validate tools and technologies that would allow scientists to better study brain connectivity and circuitry, more engineers than neuroscientists applied for BRAIN Initiative grants.  However, some psychological scientists have received BRAIN Initiative funding.  These include Desmond Oathes (Univ. of Pennsylvania), whose lab is using interleaved transcranial magnetic stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging to probe and modulate circuits relevant to affective disorders and cognitive deficits, and Russell Poldrack (Stanford University), who is working on the development of standards for the sharing of neuroimaging data as well as with the OpenNeuro data archive to enable sharing of data from BRAIN Initiative studies.

The American Psychological Association plans to submit a formal response to the RFI by the November 15, 2018 deadline, and welcomes your thoughts and ideas. You can also submit your responses directly to NIH.  Responses must be submitted electronically using the web-based form or via email to BRAINFeedback@nih.gov with "BRAIN RFI" in the subject line.  For further information or to provide APA with input on the RFI, please contact Craig Fisher of APA’s Science Government Relations Office at cfisher@apa.org.