Official Urges BrightFocus Grantees to Consider NINDS Funding As A Possible Next Step

Martha Snyder Taggart, BrightFocus Editor, Science Communications
  • Science News
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A leading government science officer addressed BrightFocus grantees attending our annual breakfast sponsored during the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting, which was held in Washington, DC, this week.

Rod Corriveau, PhD, is program director in Neurodegeneration at the National Institute for Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). In that capacity, he heads a $50 million extramural research portfolio in Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. A former investigator himself, with a PhD in neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego, Corriveau made contributions to the field of immune molecules in synaptic development and NMDA receptor-dependent neural signaling in gene expression--among other things--as a postgraduate and young faculty member.

For many researchers, an early BrightFocus grant gets a promising hypothesis off the ground to the point where one of the National Institutes of Health programs is willing to fund further research. Time alone--and having the funding to properly conduct the studies that are needed--are vital resources in studying Alzheimer’s. Just as the most common, late-onset forms of the disease take decades to develop in humans, they also take years to study accurately. Early results then typically require mid-course corrections and also need to be validated in further studies. Thus, it can take the better part of a decade (or longer) to get “actionable” results. For nonprofits like BrightFocus, having one of our grantees qualify for an NIH grant can be viewed as a “return on investment” and further validation that we funded a good idea.

Although the National Institute on Aging has a larger investment in Alzheimer’s research than NINDS, Corriveau's program directed about $20 million to Alzheimer’s research in the last funding cycle. At breakfast, Corriveau offered information about NINDS grants and tips on how to apply for that funding.

“Comorbidities are becoming the norm, in terms of how we think of dementia,” Corriveau said, and he’s a self-admitted enthusiast in the area of vascular contributions to Alzheimer’s disease. Things like infarcts, strokes, and even heart failure—“all of these fall under a spectrum of vascular contributions. Alzheimer’s pathology can be layered,” he said.

Indeed, in the Alzheimer’s science on display this week--both at SfN and at the Alzheimer’s FastTrack workshop sponsored by BrightFocus prior to SfN’s opening--there was much emphasis on the idea that late-onset Alzheimer’s is a disease of mixed pathologies. Undetected “mini-strokes” and other vascular problems are one of the pathologies seen as possibly contributing to cognition loss and symptoms.

The following are some of the “take home” points Corriveau offered about applying for the various types of grants described on the NINDS website:

  • “Bread and butter” support in the form of F30, 31, and (especially) 32 fellowship grants have enjoyed favorable funding rates ranging into the high 20th percentiles. “If your research is competitive for other funding now or in the future, it really should be eligible for an F32 grant,” Corriveau said.
  • Applications can be submitted to both NINDS and NIA, but he recommends labeling one as a “secondary” application rather than labeling both as a “dual” application, which implies an expectation for funding from both institutes.
  • A little-known fact is that the k99 award series is open to foreign nationals working in the United States—although those individuals must be placed in a lab and the bar “is very high,” Corriveau said.
  • For all applicants, reviewers will be looking for evidence of commitment from your home institution, he said, in the form of lab space, an office, and some institutional support.

In his remarks, Corriveau also offered advice on “grooming” ‘your proposal, including to make sure your research aims are understandable, feasible, and worth doing. If at first you do not succeed, try and try again, he suggested--for most grants, resubmission opportunities are unlimited.

“But it’s not a lottery,” Corriveau advised about the application process. “It’s the written word. Talk to people about it and fix the problems.”

About 50 Alzheimer’s researchers from the United States and abroad attended the breakfast. Each year, the breakfast provides a way of reaching out to the BrightFocus family of current and former grantees who are attending SfN, many of whom are also presenting their BrightFocus-funded research results (more coverage to come). It’s a way for them and us to stay connected during what can only be called a “mega event” in the neuroscience field, with over 30,000 attendees.


Glossary Terms

  • The majority of Alzheimer's disease cases are late-onset, usually developing after age 65. Late-onset Alzheimer's disease has no known cause and shows no obvious inheritance pattern.

  • Synapses are structure that permits nerve cells to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another cell.