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The National Institute of Mental Health archives materials that are over 4 years old and no longer being updated. The content on this page is provided for historical reference purposes only and may not reflect current knowledge or information.

Follow That Cell


DR. THOMAS INSEL: The Follow That Cell Challenge is an exciting new initiative from the NIH Common Fund. This is part of the Single Cell Analysis Program, which will help us understand cells far more completely. As you know, the NIH has lots of grants supporting studies on populations of cells, watching cells, growing cells, microscopic imaging – a variety of different techniques. But here we’re looking for something quite different. We’re looking for new ways to measure how individual cells change over time. And what that can tell us about the health of a tissue or an organ system. This led us to think about what we as an agency could do differently to get new ideas into the mix. What we’re trying to do here is really different. Instead of just funding a few grants, the NIH decided to offer a prize to the individual or the team that comes up with the most creative way measure changes in individual cells over time. We want new things – maybe even ideas that seem a little off the wall. And hope this challenge will stimulate those ideas from scientists – including scientists with very different backgrounds. We are looking for engineers, materials scientists, chemists -- partnering with cell biologists and disease specialists to help solve this challenge. Phase 1 of the challenge is theoretical, the idea phase. Finalists will be selected from this phase to move on to Phase 2, which will allow solvers to put their idea into practice. Phase 2 will be judged on how well the individual or team executed their plan and the quality of the data produced. Part of what’s different here for the NIH is that no money is awarded until and unless a solution is deemed to be a “winner”. There is still time to register and submit a solution—the deadline is December 15th, 2014. You can register for the Follow That Cell challenge at the Innocentive website. It’s important that potential solvers read the announcement in the Federal Register closely to understand the details of the challenge. There’s a lot of fine print. We look forward to seeing how this pans out and we hope we see innovative new approaches that open new doors for basic biology and disease related research.

NIH Press Release 

Submit your Challenge via InnoCentive 

NIH Single Cell Analysis Program 

Federal Register Notice for eligibility criteria 

Deadline for submissions - December 15, 2014

National Institute of General Medical Sciences - NIH
American Society for Cell Biology
Microglia cell - Miles Herkenham, NIMH, NIH
Purkinje cells - Yinghua Ma and Timothy Vartanian, Cornell University
Dividing pig cell - Nasser Rusan, NHLBI, NIH
Layers of nerve cells in retina - Wei Li, NEI, NIH
Human liver cell - Donna Beer Stolz, U. of Pittsburgh
Human cancer cell - Yi Wu, U. of North Carolina
Developing nerve cells - Torsten Wittmann, U. of California, San Francisco
Cells lining the trachea - Eva Mutunga, Kate Klein U. District of Columbia, National Institute of Standards
Cerebellum - Thomas Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, U California, San Diego
HIV infecting a human cell - Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman, NIAID, NIH
Fever bacteria in an infected cell - Robert Heinzen, Elizabeth Fischer, Anita Mora, NIAID, NIH
Vesicles (yellow) - Tatyana Svitkina, U. of Pennsylvania