UC Berkeley, UCSF, Berkeley Lab to collaborate on brain research

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Six teams of researchers will receive funding for projects focusing on the study of the brain, a result of a new collaboration among UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The three institutions will each contribute up to $1.5 million to the partnership, called BRAINseed. Inspired by President Barack Obama’s recent Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, the partnership is an effort to fund research projects that would otherwise have difficulty finding backing from federal organizations.

According to UCSF researcher Michael Stryker, the risk in funding seed projects is that there is no guarantee of results. Stryker, nonetheless, said these are worthy investments, and the university will receive additional federal funding if projects turn out to be successful.

“Science is not a contract to do something — it’s a grant to try something,” Stryker said.

Out of 17 brain-research proposals, six were chosen by a committee of experts from both within and outside the three institutions. Some of the criteria for the proposals included an emphasis on collaboration.

All the proposed research focuses specifically on mapping and studying the brain, including using near-infrared light to examine communication deeper in the brain and dealing with molecular transmitters, which play a role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Berkeley Lab scientist Bruce Cohen is working on brain-imaging project to develop ways to study cells within the brain using near-infrared light. He said that as a team, he and his colleagues may be able to develop a hybrid technology to probe even deeper into the brain.

BRAINseed is a method to provide initial funding for the early projects so that the researchers can later apply for funding from places such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.

David Trinkle, director of the Berkeley Research Development Office, said that because each institution has its own unique strengths and gaps, the research will greatly benefit from partnership.

According to Trinkle, Berkeley Lab carries specialized equipment and computing programs, UCSF can offer its clinical capabilities, and UC Berkeley can draw from many other departments, such as engineering and psychology.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts in this situation,” said Peter Denes, senior scientist and directorate at Berkeley Lab.

While partnerships already exist between the three institutions, a collaboration on this scale, with this amount of funding and an explicit goal of getting the institutions to work together, is unique and unprecedented, according to Denes.

In 2015, the BRAINseed projects will be up for review to receive their next round of funding.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.