Earlier this year, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) dove into the field of neurodegenerative disease research, launching the Neurodegenerative Challenge Network to promote cross-disciplinary basic science research (Feb 2018 news). On December 5, the philanthropy announced the first set of awards for the network, totaling $51.95 million. This total comprises 17 Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards, which are five-year grants of $2.5 million given to individual investigators, and nine Collaborative Science Awards, three-year grants of $1.05 million awarded to small teams (see press release).
All are basic science awards focused on understudied aspects of neurodegenerative disease, especially the contribution of other biological systems such as immunity and vasculature. For example, Elaine Hsiao at the University of California, Los Angeles, will study the role of the microbiome in neurodegeneration, while Ethan Lippmann at Vanderbilt University will probe how the blood-brain barrier regulates transport, with an eye to finding better ways to deliver drugs to the brain. Other investigators focus on RNA, computational approaches, and new model systems.
The team awards tackle similar topics. In the field of immunity, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis will investigate TREM2 regulation, and a group based at Columbia University in New York will create a tool kit for studying human microglia. University of California, San Francisco, researchers plan to develop human cell-based disease models, while a team at KU Leuven in Belgium will try to create human neuronal microcircuits on an electrode chip for the study of Parkinson’s disease. Others explore specific aspects of disease biology, such as changes in the nuclear pore complex, interactions between neurons and astrocytes, and the precise structures of toxic forms of tau. A complete list of awards can be found on the network’s website.
One notable feature of CZI’s approach is to try to foster collaboration and sharing of tools and data among awardees. Carlos Cruchaga, a member of the WashU team, noted that CZI has already contacted grantees to facilitate this, and has promised to provide computing power and expertise for analyzing the large data sets that will be generated by many studies. “Although they have funded multiple collaborations for specific projects, they have a vision of the Network as one big project,” Cruchaga wrote to Alzforum.—Madolyn Bowman Rogers
Special congratulations to the only UK based recipient of an award – Florian T. Merkle, PhD from University of Cambridge, looking at targeting shared mechanisms in neurodegenerative and metabolic disease
A growing body of evidence indicates that obesity in mid-life increases the risk of dementia later in life, and that interventions that reduce obesity can be neuroprotective. We will test if improvements in metabolic state can slow or delay neurodegeneration in mice. To identify cellular and molecular level shared between metabolic and neurodegenerative disease, we will use 3D cultures of human pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons, astrocytes, and microglial cells to test how dietary factors and hormones promote neuronal loss.