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UT System initiative on the path to “jump-start” brain research

The UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute, created just six months ago with $20 million in funding from the Board of Regents, is now accepting applications for $100,000 seed grants.

Up to $5 million will be awarded to jump-start research that will dramatically advance research of the human brain and help UT researchers compete for federal and private grants.

“We’re not looking to advance ‘shovel-ready’ projects,” said Patricia Hurn, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research and innovation at 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 ground-breaking proposals.”

In 2013, the Obama administration announced the U.S. Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative to revolutionize understanding of the human brain and help treat, cure and prevent brain disorders. The effort could receive as much as $4.5 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years.

In August, the UT System Board of Regents authorized $20 million over two years to establish the UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute to give UT scientists an edge in the intense competition for these federal research grants, as well as private ones. In the first year, in addition to the $5 million for seed grants, another $5 million will be used to recruit top faculty and pay for laboratory equipment through the STARs (Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention) program.

UT is the only system of higher education in the nation to fund an organized and strategic effort to create diverse research teams among multiple institutions, Hurn said.

“The seed funding provided by the Board of Regents is an important initiative to enhance our research efforts,” said Pedro Reyes, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “As federal funding for research becomes smaller, it is important for UT System to look at research collaboration so that we are more competitive.”

Added Tom Jacobs, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for federal relations: “Many federal agencies provide funding that encourages collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches for research on our most complex scientific challenges. The seed grants provide an extraordinary opportunity for UT scientists to explore high-risk, convergent  ideas to advance our understanding of the brain by engaging the best scientists across disciplines and across institutes.”

One or more members of a research team that’s selected to receive a seed grant might not have a neuroscience background, Hurn said, but their work in another discipline could play an integral role in transforming the fields of imaging, neurocomputation, molecular mapping and development of neuro-devices.

All 15 UT institutions are eligible for funding. The deadline to submit proposals is March 16, and selected proposals will be announced in May after a rigorous peer-review. UT faculty who would like more information can refer to the call for seed grant proposals.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and an enrollment of more than 214,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $15.6 billion (FY 2015) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 staff, faculty, researchers, physicians and other health care providers, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.