The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network was launched in 2018 with two broad goals: (1) to make fundamental advances in our understanding of the biology of neurodegeneration by bringing new talent/people and ideas into the field, and (2) to establish a learning model for how interdisciplinary collaboration and open science can be used to drive scientific progress in a specific field
We launched Cycle 1 of the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards (ECA) program in 2018 and awarded 17 grants to early career investigators new to neurodegeneration research to enable them to apply innovative approaches to further our understanding of the fundamental biology of neurodegenerative disorders. To learn more about grantees funded under Cycle 1 of the NDCN Early Career Acceleration Awards program, visit the NDCN website.
We are now pleased to invite applications for a new Request for Applications (RFA) that supports Cycle 2 of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards program. Grants will be $300,000 total costs per year for four years ($1,200,000 total costs) to support early career academic investigators, thinking creatively about new approaches to neurodegenerative diseases.
With the view that a general understanding of cellular and circuit mechanisms of healthy brain function will be a critical foundation for understanding and ultimately solving neurodegenerative disease, this RFA will also be open to proposals addressing general challenges in neuroscience, particularly in areas where there is a strong case for relevance to neurodegenerative disease. We seek to empower early career investigators to pursue bold ideas and to take risks within a supportive and collaborative environment. Awardees will benefit from mentorship support, as well as professional development, training and networking opportunities, and practical career guidance to help them navigate this early stage of their careers.
CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network
The Neurodegeneration Challenge Network model is built on the vision that progress in solving neurodegenerative diseases will come from bringing new people into the neurodegeneration field from diverse disciplines and expertise; building interdisciplinary collaborations; empowering the broader scientific community with robust tools and platform, and creating a culture of open science. Scientifically, we aspire to motivate the collective field to shift the approach to neurodegenerative diseases to a framework, where these diseases—currently addressed largely as distinct diseases and problems—are considered more holistically as a class of disorders with common features, mechanisms, and solutions.
Over the last 5 years, the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network has developed into a dynamic network of 108 investigators and over 500 students, postdocs, and staff scientists. Investigators funded through this RFA are expected to actively participate in the network through open and frequent sharing of science with the network. Investigators will be expected to participate actively in collaborations and communications across the Network, participate in working groups and webinars as appropriate, and attend the NDCN Annual Meeting.
The NDCN Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards (Cycle 2)
Grants awarded through this RFA are intended to provide funding for early career investigators conducting bold, innovative, and rigorous research related to the biological mechanisms underpinning neurodegenerative disorders. With the view that a general understanding of cellular and circuit mechanisms of healthy brain function will be a critical foundation for understanding and ultimately solving neurodegenerative disease, this RFA will also be open to proposals addressing general challenges in neuroscience, particularly in areas where there is a strong case for relevance to neurodegenerative disease.
Our aim for the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network is to bring together outstanding, innovative, forward-thinking scientists from different disciplines and ask them to think differently about how to work together to solve neurodegeneration. We encourage applications from investigators who are tackling underexplored topics as well as those addressing more well-developed mechanisms where there remain significant gaps in understanding. We are especially interested in investigators who are exploring cellular or circuit mechanisms that are broadly relevant and address these mechanisms in the context of an integrated view of human disease biology.
An important goal of the Challenge Network is the development and validation of tools and resources that will be useful and impactful for the broader research community. We strongly encourage applications from scientists with ideas for new tools, resources, and approaches (experimental and analytical) that can be deployed to address critical challenges in the field.
The application for the CZI Early Career Acceleration Award is a two-step application process, initiated with a Letter of Intent (LOI). Letters of Intent are due April 20, 2023. Letters of Intent will be evaluated, and finalists proceeding to the next stage of review will be notified by May 9, 2023. Invited full proposals are due June 13, 2023. Finalists will participate in virtual interviews August 15-17, 2023.
This is explicitly not a translational or clinical development RFA and rather is focused on foundational and mechanistic studies. Nevertheless, successful projects should be grounded in human biology and disease pathology, with the aim that these efforts will ultimately provide new avenues and rigorous foundations for future translational and clinical development work.
Examples of potential areas within the scope of this RFA include, but are not limited to:
- Understanding common disease mechanisms that cut across diseases and that may point to common avenues for intervention.
- Development of well-validated and reliable cellular platforms (iPSCs, organoids, tissue-based, and advanced organ-chip systems) and tools (probes and indicators) for studying biological mechanisms in human cells.
- Development of new functional genomics approaches that can be used to build on genetic/genomic data in neurodegeneration to test specific mechanistic hypotheses.
- Understanding cellular changes that lead to phenotypic alterations in cell-to-cell communication, circuit function, and/or behavioral outcomes.
- Cellular and systems level approaches to studying neural plasticity and resilience, especially in the context of neurodegenerative diseases.
- Testing causal hypotheses for how core cellular mechanisms such as metabolic regulation, proteostasis, RNA processing, and protein trafficking contribute to brain function and neurodegenerative diseases.
- Defining the contribution of non-neuronal influences on neurodegeneration, including potential influences of the innate and adaptive immune systems, vasculature, and the gut and microbiome.
- Computational approaches to data analysis relevant to neurodegenerative disease, that have broad benefits to the research community.
Building Tools to Support the Neuroscience Research Community
As part of the collective work of the Challenge Network, CZI will ask investigators to contribute to the development, validation, and dissemination of robust, reliable, and scalable experimental and analytical tools for the broader neuroscience and neurodegeneration community. CZI will provide infrastructure support for such community tool development and dissemination efforts.
Examples of the types of tools and resources that the Challenge Network might develop and disseminate include but are not limited to:
- Scalable tools for cellular analysis, including genomic, proteomic, and imaging methods, optimized for human cells and relevant to neurodegeneration (for instance, targeted probes and label-free methods for cellular imaging of neurons and non-neuronal cells; robust affinity reagents for proteomics; genome editing and single-cell genomic approaches).
- Well-validated, robust, shared animal models that more accurately model human disease biology.
- Unique human tissue resources and associated protocols for their handling and best use.
- Rigorous benchmark datasets for the field, for instance, well-validated longitudinal studies of disease progression that will inform more mechanistic approaches.
- Development and application of computational and machine learning approaches and tools to address neurodegeneration biology, which might include genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, imaging, and/or integration of data across experimental models and scales.
Collaboration and Open Science
The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network is an approach to address the scientific challenges of neurodegenerative diseases and an experiment in collaborative science. As part of the selection process, we will look for investigators who will enthusiastically contribute to and benefit from a highly collaborative, dynamic, and interdisciplinary approach.
- Investigators in the Challenge Network will have the opportunity to learn from, collaborate with, and interact with the community of investigators and groups within the Network, as well as with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative scientists and software engineers. Investigators and members of their labs will participate in regular investigator meetings, meetings for students, postdocs, and staff, as well as mentorship and training opportunities.
- CZI’s mission is at the interface of technology and science. Working in collaboration with, and guided by, Challenge Network investigators, we aim to develop technology-based tools and approaches to support and accelerate the broader field of neurodegeneration.
- CZI supports open science values and principles. To accelerate scientific discovery and collaboration as well as rapid dissemination, CZI supports a consent, sharing, and publication policy for open and rapid dissemination of research results and a policy for software development that maximizes accessibility, reuse, and shared development.