The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research brings the 16 NIH Institutes, Centers and Offices that support neuroscience research into a collaborative framework to coordinate their ongoing efforts and to plan new cross-cutting initiatives. By pooling resources and expertise, the Blueprint aims to accelerate neuroscience research and to reduce the burden of nervous system disorders. Working together, representatives from the partner Institutes, Centers, and Offices identify pervasive challenges in neuroscience and any technological barriers to solving them. This enables the Blueprint to support the development of new tools, training opportunities, and other resources to assist neuroscientists in both basic and clinical research.
The Blueprint makes collaboration a day-to-day part of how the NIH does business in neuroscience, complementing the basic missions of Blueprint partners. During each fiscal year, the partners contribute a small percentage of their funds to a common pool. Since the Blueprint's inception in 2004, this pool has comprised less than 1 percent of the total neuroscience research budget of the partners.
The Blueprint does not target specific nervous system disorders. Instead, it supplements and coordinates the disorder-specific missions of each partner by creating resources of general utility for neuroscience research. Nervous system disorders take many forms: mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder; neurological diseases, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis; degenerative dementias of aging, such as Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia; developmental disorders, such as autism, mental retardation, and attention deficit disorder; inherited and acquired visual and hearing loss; chronic pain conditions; alcohol dependence; and drug addiction. Despite their obvious differences, many of these disorders share features in causation and outcome, and tools that are useful against one - either in the laboratory or the clinic - are likely to be useful against others.
In fiscal year 2005, the Blueprint supported preliminary construction of the Neuroscience Information Framework, a web-based resource bank for neuroscientists, and the development of graduate courses in the neurobiology of disease. Thanks to Blueprint support, grantees of all 15 Blueprint Institutes and Centers were given access to the NIH Neuroscience Microarray Consortium, which performs gene expression profiling of the nervous system and related services on a fee-for-service basis.
In fiscal year 2006, Blueprint began supporting the development of additional training programs, new neuroimaging techniques, neuroscience core facilities, and the NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function, a set of uniform measures for clinical neuroscience studies. Blueprint funds were also used to expand two existing projects: the Pediatric MRI Study of Normal Brain Development and the Gene Expression Nervous System Atlas (GENSAT), a project to map gene activity in the mouse nervous system. In part to enhance GENSAT, the Blueprint also supplements the Mutant Mouse Regional Resource Centers, and supports the development of mouse "driver" lines to enable controlled expression of genes in the mouse nervous system.
Each year from 2007 to 2009, the Blueprint will focus on one of three themes: neurodegeneration, neurodevelopment, and neuroplasticity. Four funding announcements related to the neurodegeneration theme were released in FY07. These initiatives support the identification of biomarkers for neurodegeneration, the development of new ways to deliver therapeutics to the nervous system, and two interdisciplinary training programs in neurodegeneration research.
Further information about Blueprint's history, goals and progress in supporting neuroscience research is available in a 2006 article in the Journal of Neuroscience.