The University of Virginia on Friday detailed plans to significantly expand its research of the human brain by investing in existing areas of strength in neuroscience.
UVA’s Board of Visitors approved $15.7 million over three years from the Strategic Investment Fund for the increased effort, a cross-disciplinary initiative called BRAIN, short for Bold Research Advancement in Neuroscience.
University officials said BRAIN complements efforts of the previously established Brain Institute, a pan-University institute launched in 2016 to coordinate research and efforts to better understand the brain, seek new ways to prevent, treat and cure brain diseases and injury, and to teach about what is learned.
Documentation supporting the BRAIN grant proposal highlighted UVA’s recent successes in focused ultrasound, a technology used to treat a condition called essential tremor as well as other conditions; in epilepsy research and treatment; and in researching traumatic brain injury.
“We now have the opportunity to capitalize on these recent scientific breakthroughs at UVA, new technologies that we have helped develop and are currently developing, and the proximity of our schools to enable teams of basic, computational and clinical researchers to tackle important neuroscience problems together and to rapidly bring these breakthroughs to the clinic,” Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Dr. Richard P. Shannon said.
In all, the board announced grant funding for five proposals on Friday, with a total projected investment of $36.4 million. In addition to the BRAIN initiative, proposals approved include:
- College of Arts & Sciences, $10 million over three years with matching philanthropic component, for the establishment of the “Democracy Initiative,” a research, teaching and public engagement effort focused on the urgent issues related to democracy worldwide;
- Schools of Engineering and Applied Science, Nursing, Medicine, and Arts & Sciences, $5 million over five years for the creation and operation of a seed fund to generate, develop and translate innovative ideas at the intersection of medicine and engineering to improve health outcomes;
- UVA’s College at Wise, $3.5 million over five years to continue efforts to contribute to the economic vibrancy of Southwest Virginia by increasing entrepreneurship opportunities and supporting enrollment and retention in software engineering, computer science and other areas that bolster development of a “knowledge-based economy”; and
- School of Nursing, $2.2 million over three years for the enhancement of teaching and research in nursing graduate programs, with emphasis on addressing crucial health care needs for critically ill children in Virginia.
The Board of Visitors has approved 27 projects with a total investment of more than $216 million since establishing the $2 billion Strategic Investment Fund in February 2016. The fund provides transformational investments in the quality of a UVA education without relying on tuition or tax dollars. Investments could reach as much as $100 million annually.
The board previously provided grant funding for multiple, coordinated efforts to treat and cure type 1 diabetes; for a grant program that expands UVA’s financial aid program for qualifying, full-time undergraduate Virginia students from middle-income families; and more.
The new investments in brain research will support research and development efforts to ultimately make transformative changes in the way experts diagnose and treat diseases such as tremor caused by Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and brain injury.
“It will build on these areas, in which UVA already has an advantage, allowing us to be an undisputed world leader in non-invasive approaches to treatment, and in the development and implementation of curative therapies for these diseases,” said Dr. Jaideep Kapur, director of the UVA Brain Institute and Eugene Meyer III Professor of Neuroscience and Neurology.
The BRAIN initiative includes the coordinated efforts of multiple departments within the School of Medicine; the departments of Biology and Psychology in the College; the Curry School of Education; the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s departments of Biomedical Engineering, Systems Engineering and Computer Sciences; and the School of Nursing.