We are writing to you at the close of an exceptional year for neuroscience. In April of this year, the White House unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. Called the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, it will consist of a multi-year public-private collaboration to shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior. Described by the President as a Grand Challenge of the 21st Century, the Initiative ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders.1
Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who is leading the effort for the NIH, called the Initiative “bold and audacious”2 and stressed the necessity of public-private collaboration to bring the plan to fruition. At the Partnering for Cures conference in New York City in November, Dr. Collins stated that the purchasing power of the NIH is down 25 percent from ten years ago. Private funding and the pooling of resources are essential to fuel the momentum in neuroscience research today.
The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has an important role to play. Our NARSAD Grants continue to be a driving force in the kind of innovation from private funding that makes the BRAIN Initiative feasible. A few examples of research progress in 2013 include:
- The unveiling and roll-out to labs around the world of a new technology called CLARITY, that offers researchers for the first time a virtually transparent rendering of the cells, structures and neural circuits within an intact postmortem human brain.3 The technology was developed at the lab of Dr. Karl Deisseroth, the lab that also developed the groundbreaking technology optogenetics with the early support of a NARSAD Grant. National Institute of Mental Health Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. has predicted that CLARITY will “revolutionize neuropathology, opening a new era for studying the neural basis of mental disorders.”4
- The discovery of a potential root cause of depression by two-time NARSAD Grantee Marina Picciotto, Ph.D. at Yale University. Dr. Picciotto and team discovered the importance of a signaling system in the brain not previously believed to be central in causing depression, shifting attention from serotonin to a different signaling chemical, or neurotransmitter, called acetylcholine. The new hypothesis suggests that it is the disruption of acetylcholine, and not serotonin, which sets depression in motion and opens the possibility to treat the cause of depression and not just its symptoms.5
- NARSAD Grantee Kirsty Spalding, Ph.D., and team at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, used an innovative methodology to quantify the number of brain cells renewed throughout human life. The researchers were able to identify the “birth date” of neurons in deceased human brains and found that more than one-third of neurons are regularly renewed throughout life, offering evidence that new neurons may support cognitive functions at all stages of life and that treatments to enhance the birth of new neurons may help treat psychiatric illnesses.6
- New treatment approach shows potential to reverse symptoms of schizophrenia and restore healthy brain function. Research led by two-time NARSAD Grantee Joseph T. Coyle, M.D., at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital offers the possibility that D-serine, a simple compound that boosts signals of the brain chemical glutamate, can remedy the debilitating symptoms of schizophrenia. The results with animal models offer hope of a new treatment target for schizophrenia because they show that a long-standing, genetically-based problem with glutamate may be remedied in adulthood.7
These are just a few examples of the research highlights we share with you each week throughout the year (if you do not receive our weekly eNews, please sign up for it). There is great momentum in the field, there are great steps forward being taken, and there is great need for our loved ones who are still suffering.
During this year-end period, we hope you will give extraordinary support to further brain research. As always, 100% of your donation will be invested directly into NARSAD Grants thanks to the far-sightedness of two family foundations that underwrite operational expenses at the Foundation. This is the era of the brain and the time to realize our bold and audacious goals of improving treatments and developing preventive techniques and cures for mental illness. Thank you in advance for your generous support.
With sincere regards,
Herbert Pardes, M.D. Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D. Stephen A. Lieber
Pres., Scientific Council President & CEO Chairman of the Board
PS: SPECIAL TAX OPPORTUNITY: Through December 31, 2013, individuals age 70 1/2 or older can make tax-free distributions directly from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to qualified charities, such as the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, for up to a maximum of $100,000. We recommend that you discuss this special tax incentive with your income tax professional for further details.
1 White House Fact Sheet: BRAIN Initiative, April 2, 2013
2 The White House Blog April 2, 2013
3 Paper published online April 10, 2013 in Nature
4 National Institute of Mental Health Director’s Blog April 10, 2013
5 Published online February 11, 2013 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
6 Findings published June 6, 2013 in Cell
7 Research results published May 31, 2013 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences