What You Need to Know about this Funder's Neuroscience Grants

Few areas of health research have been more affected by new technologies than brain science: it's simply not possible to see or understand much of what goes on up there inside the old noggin without fancy MRIs and other machines. In fact, the next decade could be a breakthrough era for research into the brain and cognitive function.

It better be: Mental illness and cognitive problems like Alzheimer's are among society's most common and costly health afflictions, and efforts to develop cures or treatments have not put much of a dent in these problems.

The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, a now-independent offshoot of the McKnight Foundation, has been encouraging and supporting brain research since 1986. The thrust of its support is in the form of three competitive annual awards: the endowment recently announced a call for letters of intent for one of those grant programs, the Technological Innovations in Neuroscience Awards. (Deadline is December 5, 2016.)

The award provides up to $100,000 a year for two years to advance understanding of the brain, and to "advance and enlarge the range of technologies available to the neurosciences." Their interest is new ideas and solutions: the endowment says it does not support research based primarily on existing techniques. The award was established in 1999, and up to three awards are given annually.

(The McKnight Endowment's other two programs are the Scholar and the Memory & Cognitive Disorders Award. Check out their website for more on those programs.)

The Technological Innovations' call for LOIs is quite brief, but they make a point of inviting "collaborative and cross-disciplinary applications."

This reflects a larger trend in biological and health sciences: a deliberate push to encourage and improve multidisciplinary and team science approaches to research. The brain's complexity, as much as any biological or healthcare question, demands such a multidisciplinary approach to research.

McKnight specifically invites scientists developing "novel and creative" technologies to learn about neuroscience and diseases of the brain. It's common for philanthropists to direct their health-research dollars toward the leading edge of the science, on the assumption that the federal government will be more likely to take a conservative approach, funding surer things that may have a more predictable benefit. So the mad scientists out there should take a look.