Today, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced $64.25 million in funding and its selection of 17 early career investigators and nine collaborative science teams to launch the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. This new network brings together experimental scientists from diverse research fields — neuroscience, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology, and genomics — along with computational biologists and physicians, to understand the underlying causes of neurodegenerative disorders.
“To fill gaps in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, we need to support new approaches, explore new ideas, and help experts connect across disciplines,” said CZI Head of Science, Cori Bargmann. “We’re excited to welcome the first group of CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network grantees. Together, their work will increase our knowledge of the basic biology of these diseases — and we need that knowledge to develop better treatments.”
Neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and ALS, are a class of diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease alone is the fifth most common cause of death for Americans above age 65, and the number of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias is predicted to nearly triple — from 5 million people to 14 million people — by 2060. Meanwhile, the causes of most neurodegenerative diseases are only partly understood, and there are still no effective therapies to cure, prevent, or even treat most of these disorders.
The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network seeks to address these gaps by launching a collaborative network that will bring together scientists, physicians, and engineers to focus on neurodegenerative diseases as a broad class of disorders, with shared features and potentially shared solutions. Challenge Network researchers will focus on understanding the fundamental biology of what causes these diseases and how they progress, with an aim toward future development of new strategies for treatment and prevention.
“Despite tremendous investment and progress in understanding these diseases, there remains a surprising amount of very basic information about their biology that we don’t know,” said CZI Science Program Officer, Katja Brose. “By supporting these interdisciplinary collaborations and generating shared tools, resources and platforms, we hope to inspire a new approach to tackling neurodegenerative disease — one that leverages the combined power of basic science and technology to accelerate progress towards clinical goals.”
In February 2018, CZI issued an open request for applications to the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. Today’s recipients were awarded through two funding mechanisms: the CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards and the CZI Collaborative Science Awards.
CZI’s Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards, named for the late Ben Barres, an American neurobiologist and fierce advocate for young scientists, women, mentorship, and diversity in science, will support early career academic investigators — especially those who are new to the field of neurodegeneration. CZI is awarding a total of $55.25 million for these awards. Each of the 17 selected investigators will receive $2.5 million, as well as benefit from the scientific and professional mentorship and collaborative support of the Challenge Network.
CZI’s Collaborative Science Awards will support small groups of interdisciplinary collaborations focused on the fundamental biology of neurodegeneration. Each collaborative group includes at least one physician. CZI believes that fostering new models of collaboration between physicians, engineers, computational biologists, and scientists studying basic biology will allow us to reach breakthroughs faster. CZI is awarding over $9 million for these awards. Each of the nine selected groups will receive $1.05 million each.