From the BRAIN Director: Funding neuroscience in an uncertain budget climate

A message to the community from Dr. John Ngai, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative.

When the first grants from the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® Initiative, or The BRAIN Initiative®, were issued in 2014, the entire neuroscience field came alive with this new, innovative way to advance cutting-edge science and novel neurotechnologies.

In the decade since the BRAIN Initiative was launched, our researchers have made progress at speeds I could have never imagined. Many innovative tools, resources, and insights on neural circuit function and first-in-human trials have been made possible by BRAIN Initiative researchers—advances that are laying the foundation for more precise and targeted treatments for devastating neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders.

The BRAIN Initiative has shown that it is more than fundamental research. It is fundamental to research.

To date, BRAIN Initiative-funded technologies and research have transformed the neuroscience landscape in three important ways:

  • Fundamentally changing our understanding of the brain’s neural circuits, including in the human brain;
  • Enabling the design of human-centric, personalized technologies; and
  • Creating and sharing a vast number of neuroscience tools and foundational data for broad use.

Although BRAIN Initiative projects span a range of disciplines, each one embodies what remains central to the Initiative—inclusive, collaborative, open, and ethical neuroscience.

The NIH BRAIN Initiative’s success hinges on our ability to serve as good stewards of taxpayer investments. This approach has never been more important, considering this year’s recently passed appropriations bill, which provides $402 million for the BRAIN Initiative. This reflects a $278 million decrease from last year’s $680 million appropriation due to a drop in 21st Century Cures Act funds this year, combined with a drop in the BRAIN Initiative appropriation to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) budget last year. The Cures Act funding is a congressional supplement designed to boost key innovation programs, such as the BRAIN Initiative, with predetermined, varying annual funds through fiscal year 2026.

The recently passed budget bill will fund the government until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2024. While the BRAIN Initiative will not be able to fund programs at the same level as previous years, rest assured that we will continue to support currently active awards, albeit with some adjustments. Please reach out to your program officer with any questions or concerns.

In any funding climate, our mission, values, and commitment are the same—and there’s still so much more work to do. The BRAIN Initiative has been—and will continue to be—strategic in the scientific investments that hold the most promise for the future. In doing so, it is important to build upon the many significant leaps made by BRAIN Initiative-funded researchers, including:

Although we’ve accomplished a lot together, we know there is so much more work to be done.

The entire BRAIN Initiative community continues to work tirelessly toward advancing knowledge and changing the ways we do science. I thank all of you and Congress for continuing to support neuroscience research and our quest to improve the health of all Americans. Together, we can make a major impact on the lives of communities and families across the country, if not the world.

With respect and gratitude,

John Ngai, Ph.D.

Director, NIH BRAIN Initiative

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