Money, sex and cell tracking

BRAIN awards

A wearable scanner to image the human brain in motion. Lasers to guide nerve-cell firing. Radio waves to stimulate brain circuits. DNA barcodes to identify complex circuits. No, these are not items from the latest sci-fi thriller! They are among the 58 projects funded by the National Institutes of Health as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, initiative. In 2013, President Obama launched the BRAIN initiative to bridge the gap between the technologies available for neuroscience research and the areas of research most consequential to our understanding of this organ. In late September, the NIH announced the issuance of $46 million in grants, the first wave of funding, to more than 100 researchers all over the U.S. and abroad. These awards are the first round of awards in a 12-year plan aimed at developing tools and technologies that will help dissect and demystify complex neural circuits with the hope that understanding how the brain works will help decipher therapies to treat a wide variety of neurological disorders.

The X factor

Have you ever looked at a plate of cells and wondered whether they had two X chromosomes or one? Would a male cell respond differently to your experiment than a female cell? In a commentary in the journal Nature over the summer, Janine Austin Clayton, the NIH associate director for women’s health research, and NIH Director Francis S. Collins wrote that there is a paucity of experiments designed to analyze the effects of sex. There are known effects of sex on several disease states, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia. Also, for example, stress affects males and females differently, and males are more prone to substance abuse. However, more often than not, these differences are neglected in basic science research. To help bridge the gap, the NIH announced supplemental funding of $10.1 million that will go toward building a “body of sex-based knowledge, informing the understanding of health.” “By making strategic investments that incorporate sex into existing funded studies, we are paving the way for researchers to better understand when sex matters in their research,” said James M. Anderson, director of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, which oversees the NIH Common Fund.

May the best stalker win!

Calling all wannabe cell stalkers! The NIH has a challenge for you: The NIH Single-Cell Analysis Program, or SCAP, is calling for innovators to look at a single cell in a mixed population of cells and develop novel tools and techniques to analyze and track a single cell in situ over time. Cellular heterogeneity, now widely accepted, can affect the function of an entire population of cells. Methods to identify dynamic changes in the cell can derive information about the health of the cell and the population, allowing researchers to develop diagnostic and therapeutic modalities to treat human diseases. The Follow the Cell challenge is a two-phase competition. In phase I, contestants submit theoretical solutions. Entries are due by Dec. 15. After doing an initial round of screening, a three-judge panel will review the submissions and award up to six prizes totaling $100,000 by March 16. Phase II will involve real data showing proof of principle from the phase I entries. These are due by March 30, 2017, and up to two winning solutions will win prizes totaling $400,000. The phase II winners will be announced July 31, 2017. Happy stalking!

Samarpita SenguptaSamarpita Sengupta (samarpita.
sengupta@utsouthwestern.edu) is a postdoctoral fellow in the pharmacology and neuroscience departments at the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.