Brain Research Foundation announces 2014 Scientific Innovations Awards

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The Brain Research Foundation has announced three recipients of its 2014 Scientific Innovations Awards programme for researchers investigating novel pathways to detect, treat and better comprehend serious neural diseases such as Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.

“The innovation that these researchers bring to addressing the scientific understanding and potential treatment of devastating diseases is inspiring,” says Terre A Constantine, executive director of the Brain Research Foundation. “If this research proves these approaches successful, many areas of neuroscience will benefit.”

According to a press release, the Scientific Innovations Awards support innovative discovery in both basic and clinical neuroscience. This funding mechanism is designed to support creative, cutting edge research in well-established research laboratories, under the direction of established investigators.

Descriptions of the work funded by the 2014 Scientific Innovations Awards follow:

A “burst” is a brief period of high-frequency activity within neurons that can have a powerful impact on brain circuits. Symptoms in human diseases like Parkinson’s and epilepsy are thought to be influenced by “overly-exuberant” bursting. With his 2014 Scientific Innovations Award, Christopher I Moore, Department of Neuroscience at Brown University, will conduct research to determine if biological strategies can be effective at modulating thalamic bursts. Data gathered may indicate potential for entire new treatment strategies, reducing or eliminating the need for intrusive and painful electrode implants.

Hurler syndrome is a genetic disease that manifests itself after birth through developmental delay, dwarfism, mental retardation and frequently, death prior to ten years of age. With a 2014 Scientific Innovations Award, W Mark Saltzman, Department of Biomedical Engineering at Yale University, will attempt to correct the gene disorder in Hurler syndrome in mice by “editing” genes in utero using nanotechnology. The potentially transformative approach, if successful, can be applied to any single gene defect – such as Huntington’s disease and Fragile-X syndrome.

Disruptions in neural circuitry cause many diseases such autism and schizophrenia. However, scientists’ ability to study brain wiring has been greatly limited. Using a 2014 Scientific Innovations Award, Anthony Zador, Department of Neuroscience, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will test an innovative alternative to mapping neural connectivity. Rather than “take” a picture of brain wiring and connectivity through microscopy, Zador will “build” a picture or model through a unique DNA sequencing technique. The approach will be used to assess the brain wiring in a mouse model of autism. If successful, this technique can potentially be used to analyse neural circuitry disruptions in a great number of neuropsychiatric disorders.

The Scientific Innovations Award grants are specifically for projects that may be too innovative and speculative for traditional funding sources but still have a high likelihood of producing important findings in a very short timeframe. It is expected that investigations supported by these grants will yield high impact data and result in additional major grant funding and significant publications in key journals, the press release reports.