UT System to give seed grants for brain research

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The UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute will accept applications for $100,000 seed grants for human brain research.

The institute, which the UT System Board of Regents established in August 2014, will be giving up to a total $5 million to applicants in an attempt to enhance brain research, according to a statement from the UT System.

The seed grants, which are grants that go toward approved projects, will fund innovative brain research projects, according to institute director Daniel Johnston. Johnston said he is expecting around 200 applications from UT System institutions.

“The purpose of the seed grants is to allow researchers to pursue new high-risk areas of research and to form new collaborations with other scientists that might not have occurred without the seed funding,” Johnston said.

Patricia Hurn, UT System vice chancellor for research and innovation, said the institute, also known as UT Brain, will benefit from the seed grants because the researchers will be in a better position to receive federal funding.

“The really important output is that our researchers be well-positioned to compete for the national [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN)] Initiative,” Hurn said. “To do that, they need to be not only fabulous scientists, but they need to be innovative.”

Because of decreased federal funding for neuroscience research, there will be increased national competition, according to mechanical engineering professor Dale Klein.

Although the seed grants will only be available for UT System schools, they are intended to garner competition for federal grants.

“It appears that federal funds are going to become more challenging to obtain, [and] the amount will be reduced, so the competition is going to be more challenging,” Klein said. “So this seed grant is to put people together to be more competitive for what we expect to be reduced federal funds for research.”

UT-Austin will be administering the grants in a partnership with the UT System. Applicants for the seed grants will come from departments and faculties from across the state, Klein said.

“The applicants we expect will be mainly within the UT System campuses, but they could also partner with schools outside the system,” Klein said. “Our funds will only be to the System schools. We expect it will be the neuroscience faculty or those faculty involved in that.”

President Barack Obama announced the launch of the BRAIN Initiative in April 2014. The initiative is “focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain,” according to a White House statement.

“Currently, the BRAIN Initiative that President Obama is pushing is several hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” Klein said. “So what we want to do is enable our faculty to be more competitive to go after those funds.”

The UT Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute was founded to foster collaboration among researchers, according to Klein.

 “It really is intended to enhance communication among the faculty at both the academic and the medical health-science institutes to help focus on research needs,” Klein said.