The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network has three key goals:
(1) To make fundamental advances toward understanding neurodegeneration;
(2) To bring new ideas and talent to the field of neurodegeneration; and
(3) To encourage and experiment with a new interdisciplinary, collaborative, and open science research model involving scientists, clinicians, and engineers.
We launched the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) in 2018 with two grant mechanisms: the Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award and the CZI Collaborative Science Awards. These awards currently fund 17 early career investigators and nine collaborative teams to work on questions related to fundamental science underlying neurodegenerative disease.
We are now pleased to invite applications to join the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network through a new Request for Applications (RFA) and grant program: the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network Collaborative Pairs Pilot Project Awards.
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 platforms; 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. The NDCN Collaborative Pairs RFA extends on this vision.
Building on the NDCN Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award and the Collaborative Science Awards that launched the Challenge Network, the Collaborative Pairs awards will also prioritize bringing new investigators and early career scientists into the field, with an emphasis on recruiting scientists from fields outside the core of neurodegeneration, and will target work that address neurodegenerative diseases in a novel, innovative, interdisciplinary, and disease cross-cutting way. A key goal for the NDCN Collaborative Pairs opportunity is to provide a funding structure that will encourage and support bold, risk-taking, and potentially transformative ideas and science.
Overview of the Two-Phase RFA Process
To meet the goals of catalyzing new interdisciplinary collaborations and inspiring innovative science, the Collaborative Pairs RFA is structured as a two-phased funding opportunity.
- In the first phase, we are recruiting applications from teams of two investigators and their labs for 18-month pilot awards ($150,000 total costs/collaboration) to pursue new projects related to understanding the molecular, cell biological, and physiological underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease.
- The purpose of the pilot project award is to give the collaborating teams the freedom to explore new, out-of-the-box, potentially transformative ideas. We are looking for teams and proposals that are addressing a critical problem in neurodegeneration in an innovative, bold way.
- Successful pilot projects from Phase 1 pilot phase will be eligible for application and evaluation for an extended grant award of $400,000 total costs/year/pair for four years ($1.6 million total), for a total of $1.75 million over five-and-a-half years for the entirety of the project (Phase 1 and Phase 2).
- The Collaborative Pairs RFA aims to develop new teams. Collaborative Pairs cannot have previously received joint grant funding together. Applicants will be asked to describe the value of the collaboration and what unique perspective this pairing brings to the proposal.
- We will be looking for collaborations that bring together complementary approaches and expertise. In particular, we strongly encourage applications from collaborations involving clinicians, as well as pairs that bring together researchers from different fields, for instance: connecting experimental biologists and computational biologists, or bridging between different disciplines such as immunology, cell biology, neuroscience, biochemistry, stem cell biology, and bioengineering.
- The scope of these collaborations should focus on foundational and mechanistic science (as opposed to translational and clinical work). However, successful projects should be grounded in human biology and disease pathology, with the longer-term goal of opening new directions for other translational and clinical efforts.
- While this is not explicitly a tool/technology-focused RFA, we encourage applications with a tool and technology focus. As part of the collective work of the Challenge Network, our funded investigators are contributing to the development, validation, and dissemination of robust, reliable, and scalable experimental and analytical tools for the broader neurodegeneration community.
- Applications are strongly encouraged from investigators new to the field of neurodegeneration, and, in particular, researchers with relevant interdisciplinary training and experience in disciplines outside of neurodegeneration who bring new technology, resources, or frameworks to the field. Previous work in neurodegeneration is not a prerequisite.
- Each Collaborative Pair must include at least one early- or mid-career investigator, and at least half of the awards will be specifically reserved for Collaborative Pairs that include at least one early-career investigator. See application instructions and eligibility criteria for more details and definitions of early- and mid-career.
- We aspire to create a diverse community in the Challenge Network and strongly encourage applications from women, underrepresented minorities, and diverse groups worldwide. See application instructions and eligibility criteria for specific details on eligibility.
- We anticipate awarding up to 30 Collaborative Pilot Awards in Phase 1, and awarding up to 30% of the eligible Phase 1 pilot projects awards for Phase 2 extended grant awards. Final determination of awards and numbers will depend on the quality of the applications received, at CZI’s sole discretion.
Examples of potential areas within the scope of the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network include, but are not limited to:
- Exploring disease mechanisms that cut across neurodegenerative diseases and that may point to common avenues for intervention. We define neurodegenerative diseases broadly, from degenerative developmental conditions in children to diseases more commonly associated with aging;
- Probing disease mechanisms in human cells, tissues, and models; foundational studies that rigorously bridge between model systems approaches and human biology and disease pathology;
- Testing causal hypotheses for how core cellular mechanisms such as metabolism, proteostasis, RNA processing, and protein trafficking contribute to 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;
- Developing improved animal models that more closely mimic human disease progression and physiology;
- Explaining the relative susceptibility of different cell populations in different neurodegenerative diseases; and
- Building a foundational understanding of disease progression, risk, and the influence of aging over the lifespan, including mechanistic approaches as well as longitudinal descriptive studies.
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 be looking for investigators and groups 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.
- Clinical partners in these collaborative projects will play important roles as mentors to help the collective work of the Challenge Network stay closely aligned to the clinical contexts of these disorders and to the needs of patients.
- CZI supports open science values and principles. To accelerate scientific discovery, collaboration, and 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.
RFA Application Process
Details of the Application and Review process are provided below. Please read these instructions and eligibility requirements carefully, even if you have applied to other CZI funding opportunity previously, as requirements vary between RFAs and opportunities.