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Inscopix Call for Proposals: “Deciphering the Neural Circuit Basis of Disease”

Issue Date: June 16, 2014

Objective: On April 2, 2013, President Obama launched the ambitious BRAIN Initiative to revolutionize our understanding of the brain in action. The hope is that a comprehensive understanding of how the brain functions both in health and disease will transform how we treat, cure, and prevent neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, addiction, and traumatic brain injury. In response to the President’s  “all hands on deck” call to action, Inscopix, Inc., a privately held neuroscience company based in Palo Alto, California, is committing its technology and scientific infrastructure through this $1 million (in-kind) DECODE (Deciphering Circuit Basis of Disease) Grant Program to advance the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.

Background: Contemporary efforts to elucidate the functioning of the brain, including the BRAIN Initiative, focus heavily on neural circuits, the level at which the brain really operates. Neural circuits are comprised of distinct populations or ensembles of interconnected neurons that work in concert to perform specific sensory, motor, or cognitive functions. A central goal in understanding the neural circuit basis of brain function is to identify and extract meaningful patterns from dynamic electrochemical activity flowing through constituent neurons during specific functions and behavioral states. Identifying such “circuit signatures” or “neural codes” in the healthy brain, and investigating how they go awry during disease, has led to tantalizing prospects of developing powerful and precise therapeutic interventions for various brain disorders via optimal retuning of aberrant neural circuit activity.  

Identifying normal and disease “circuit signatures” is based on the ability to record neural activity in large populations of pre-defined neurons and glia at cellular resolution during natural behavior, and often over extended periods of time. Until recently there was no technology that could achieve all of these objectives. Inscopix has recently innovated and developed an imaging technology and associated methods that is empowering researchers to image ensemble neural activity in over a thousand neurons at cellular resolution in freely behaving rodents, and in many cases, longitudinally for months at a time. When coupled with custom-designed optical probes, Inscopix’s nVista HD imaging system allows for imaging of ensemble neural activity in almost every region of the brain. Through our integrated solution for neural activity imaging, data acquisition, and data analysis (see here), Inscopix is leveling the playing field for researchers interested in investigating the neural circuit basis of brain function and disorder.

Scope: Inscopix is soliciting hypothesis driven research proposals that will establish a direct link between ensemble neural activity and disease phenotypes. Applicants are strongly encouraged to focus on established mouse models of disease to extract key characteristics of disease signatures in a cell type- and neural circuit-specific manner. Applicants are not restricted to a specific disease area, and Inscopix expects to receive proposals for a broad range of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, brain injury paradigms, and other diseases in which brain circuits are involved (for example, inflammatory diseases and obesity). Proposals might include, but are not limited to, signal analysis in health vs disease, and/or how circuit signatures change and evolve during disease progression, and in therapeutic intervention. Special attention will be given to proposals that will probe, or lay the foundations for, investigating causality of the disease circuit signatures identified by pairing Inscopix’s imaging technology with other circuit manipulation technologies such as optogenetics, chemogenetics, pharmacology, and cell ablation.

The Grant Award: The duration of the grant award is for 2 years. Inscopix anticipates selecting between 3-5 recipients for the award. Each winning proposal will be eligible to receive between 1-4 nVista HD imaging system package(s) over the course of the project period (see here for more details on nVista HD and what each system package includes), depending on the proposed experimental paradigm. Winning proposals will also receive credit for up to $5000 in consumables. Awardees will have access to Inscopix’s robust scientific and intellectual infrastructure and will have the unique opportunity to actively engage and collaborate with members of Inscopix’s scientific and technical teams (neuroscientists, data scientists, and engineers) to meet their proposed research objectives.

Eligibility: Principal investigators (faculty or equivalent) at any career level in any public or private academic institution or commercial organization are eligible to apply. There are no citizenship or geographical restrictions.

Selection Process: A committee that includes Inscopix’s Chief Scientist, members of the Inscopix Scientific Advisory Board, and external brain disease experts will review the proposals. The proposals will be judged on the basis of scientific merit, appropriateness of the nVista HD imaging system for the project, overall impact to the field, and feasibility. Applicants will be evaluated for their track record, intellectual commitment, and resource allocation to the proposal. Finalists will be interviewed via telephone before award decisions are made.

Awardee Expectations: Awardees will be expected to present their work and to share findings at progress review meetings that Inscopix will organize for the winners. All applicants should be prepared for annual travel to Inscopix headquarters in Palo Alto, California, at their own expense. Awardees are also expected to publish findings. Inscopix reserves the right to adjust the level of support and commitment based on project engagement and forward progress on the part of the awardees.

As the project sponsor and as a scientific collaborator, Inscopix expects to share rights to data and to any intellectual property that might arise from research conducted by the recipient through the award. Any rights to authorship of publications will be determined according to conventional scientific norms. Full terms and conditions for the award will be negotiated and established with each awardee’s institution at time of award.  

Application Requirements: Applicants should provide the following:

1. Project Narrative (up to 500 words) describing the proposal in plain language understandable by a general, lay audience. The Project Narrative will be made public for all awarded proposals.

2. Research Proposal not exceeding 4 pages (11 size font).

a. Proposals should include specific aims, background, significance/impact, central hypothesis, rationale, experimental design, predicted outcomes/expected datasets, pitfalls and alternative strategies, and brief methods.

b. Proposals requesting 2 or more nVista HD imaging systems will have to clearly justify additional equipment needs and specify delivery/timing of additional systems.

c. Preliminary data is desirable, but not required.

d. Bibliography should be submitted but is not part of the 4-page count.

e. The exact format for the research proposal is left to the author’s discretion.

3. Biosketches for the Principal Investigator and key collaborators (including postdocs and graduate students) who will work on the project.

4. Description of all applicable facilities (laboratory, animal, computer, imaging, histology, surgical, etc.) and major items of equipment that are already available.

5. Brief budget (half to one page) that identifies all major project expenses (reagents, equipment, personnel, etc.), and existing and anticipated funding for them.

Instructions for submission: Please submit all documents requested in the Application Requirements electronically as a single PDF file on Inscopix’s website.

Application deadline: The deadline for application submission is Sept 15, 2014 (5:00 PM PST).

Award Announcement: November 15-19, 2014, Society for Neuroscience conference, Washington, D.C.

Contacts: For all scientific, administrative, and other pertinent application inquiries, please email Inscopix Grants Director, Dr. Pushkar Joshi, at grants@inscopix.com.