The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has announced investments totaling $51.95 million in a research initiative aimed at advancing understanding of the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders, including ALS, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's diseases.
The funding will support the launch of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, an interdisciplinary research effort aimed at bringing together new people, new types of collaborative interactions, and new approaches that advance understanding of the fundamental biology of neurodegeneration. To that end, the initiative will work to break down silos and shift the field from disease-focused approaches to a view of neurodegenerative disorders as a broad class; focus on basic biology, as opposed to clinical or translational research, as a necessary foundation for the development of therapeutic and preventative strategies; connect newcomers to the field with clinical mentors; bring in expertise and talent from other fields such as immunology, oncology, and metabolism; and function as an incubator for data- and engineering-aligned solutions and openly accessible tools that maximize the benefits of new research methods.
Inaugural grantees include seventeen early-career investigators and nine collaborative science teams. Recipients of the Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards — named for the late neurobiologist and advocate for young scientists, women, and diversity in science — each of whom will receive $2.5 million, include Nicola Allen (Salk Institute for Biological Studies), who is investigating how astrocytes regulate neuronal synapse formation and functionr, and Ning Jiang (University of Texas at Austin), who is leveraging immunology tools developed by her lab to profile single T-cells that infiltrate the brain during neurodegeneration.
In addition, Collaborative Science Awards of $1.05 million each were awarded in support of small interdisciplinary collaborative groups of physicians, engineers, computational biologists, and scientists focused on the fundamental biology of neurodegeneration. Recipients include a team at the University of California, San Francisco that is building human cell-based models that bridge the gap between genetics and pathology, and a team at Columbia University that is working to generate key reference data on microglial cells, a key part of the brain's immune response, and develop a microglia experimental tool kit to identify and target different human microglial subtypes.
"Despite tremendous investment and progress in understanding these diseases, there remains a surprising amount of very basic information about their biology that we don't know," said CZI science program officer Katja Brose. "By supporting these interdisciplinary collaborations and generating shared tools, resources, and platforms, we hope to inspire a new approach to tackling neurodegenerative disease — one that leverages the combined power of basic science and technology to accelerate progress towards clinical goals."
For a complete list of grant recipients, see the CZI website.
(Image credit: National Institutes of Health)