The University of Texas System has recently announced the attribution of 45 seed grants meant to accelerate brain research in 15 different institutions in the state. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin were the two facilities with greater recognition, having received 10 grants each.
Each of the grants awarded includes $100,000 to be used in jump-start multi-disciplinary and innovative research in the human brain field. The system awarded a total of $4.5 million through the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Research Institute, which was created by the Board of Regents in 2014 with the purpose of helping develop approaches for the study of the brain, as well as enhance broad scientific expertise and resources available throughout the UT System.
“We’re looking to form new teams of researchers that take advantage of the enormous scientific talent and resources across all UT institutions to develop truly innovative and groundbreaking proposals,” said in a press release the vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the UT System, Patricia Hurn, PhD, about the project that was launched with initial $20 million and is aligned with the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.
At UTHealth, the grants are expected to represent “a major boost to the neuroscience programs at UTHealth investigating fundamental brain mechanisms,” stated the professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at UTHealth Medical School, John H. Byrne, PhD. “The grants will foster collaborations, which will lead us closer to understanding the brain and the understanding and treating of brain disorders.”
The projects that will now be supported through the newly-awarded grants include the study of brain function, as well as the underlying causes of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy, and can help develop new treatments. “We really don’t know all the mechanisms involved in the various psychiatric disorders,” explained the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and holder of the Pat R. Rutherford, Jr. Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UTHealth Medical School, Jair C. Soares, MD, PhD.
At UT Austin, on the other hand, the grant winner, Andrew Dunn, PhD, explained that he is working on a new microscope expected to improve the visualization of individual dendritic spines in brain tissue. Due to the importance of dendritic spines in human learning and memory, this research project may result in the development of better treatments for cognitive disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and Fragile X syndrome.
“This seed grant will allow us to establish a new collaboration between two labs with expertise in biomedical engineering and neuroscience,” stated Dr. Dunn, who serves as professor and interim chairman of the Biomedical Engineering Department at UT Austin. “It also will allow us to demonstrate the proof of concept of this new imaging technique and obtain preliminary results for future grant proposals.”
The University of Texas System attributed the grants after reviewing 158 proposals that were submitted by faculty researchers and is planning on attributing another round of seed grants next year. UT System encourages the formation of research teams including faculty members from different disciplines and institutions, which is thought to be a cultural shift toward solving complex neuroscience challenges.
“Awardees reached out to experts in other research fields and at other institutions to explore new ideas on how to advance BRAIN and neuroscience research. The UT BRAIN teams have proposed potentially groundbreaking ideas, and many are poised to compete for sustaining their research through external sources,” explained the UT System associate vice-chancellor for federal relations and chairman of the UT BRAIN Review Committee, Tom Jacobs, PhD.