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NIH BRAIN Initiative Launches Projects to Develop Cell Atlases and Molecular Tools for Cell Access

Institute Update

Today the National Institutes of Health announces two transformative projects supported by the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative: The BRAIN Initiative® Cell Atlas Network (BICAN) and the Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access. These BRAIN 2.0 projects aim to transform our understanding of brain cell types and the precise tools needed to access them, bringing us one step closer to unraveling the complex workings of the human brain.

Building on findings from the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network, BICAN takes the next step in mapping brain cells and circuits across multiple species, with an emphasis on humans. BICAN will support 11 grants projected to total $100 million annually over 5 years. The aim of these awards is to generate a complete reference atlas of cell types in the human brain across the lifespan, which can be shared and used throughout the research community. In addition to developing a “parts list” detailing the vast array of neurons and non-neuronal cells in the human brain, the project also aims to map cell interactions that underlie a wide range of brain disorders.

In parallel, the Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access will support seven grants projected to total $36 million over 3 years in the first project phase. This project will leverage new brain cell census data and advanced technology to build an expanded “armamentarium,” or toolkit. Scientists will be able to use the toolkit to access specific brain cells and neural circuits in model systems that include both laboratory animals and human tissue specimens. The toolkit will empower scientists to deepen their understanding of neural circuit function and allow them to target specific brain cells and circuits using molecular probes with high precision and reproducibility. The hope is that researchers will use this armamentarium to study cell- and circuit-specific activity underlying complex behaviors, laying a foundation for future precision gene therapies. Importantly, the project will support efforts to build research capacity at historically under-resourced institutions.

Together with the forthcoming BRAIN Initiative Connectivity Across Scales (BRAIN CONNECTS) Network, these large-scale projects promise to transform neuroscience research, illuminating foundational principles governing the circuit basis of behavior and informing new approaches to the treatment of human brain disorders.

Eleven grants support three BICAN components:

Comprehensive Center on Human and Non-Human Primate Brain Cell Atlases 

Specialized Collaboratory on Human, Non-Human Primate, and Mouse Brain Cell Atlases 

Coordinating Unit for Biostatistics, Informatics, and Engagement (CUBIE) 

Seven grants support two components of the Armamentarium for Precision Brain Cell Access:

Pilot Resources for Brain Cell Type-Specific Access and Manipulation Across Vertebrate Species  

Reagent Resources for Brain Cell Type-Specific Access and Manipulation to Broaden Distribution of Enabling Technologies for Neuroscience 

Additional Resources: