The has announced grants totaling $7.5 million through its program.
The three-year grants will support efforts by six research teams working in the area of neuronal maturation, the science of growing mature human brain cells in the laboratory. It currently takes more than a year to develop cells that come close to resembling fully mature neurons, and even then the yield is often low and full maturity has not been reached. Successful neuronal maturation would have widespread impact on the field of neuroscience, including changing how researchers study the healthy brain as well as how they seek treatments for conditions such as autism, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.
This year's cohort of ADI recipients includes Daniel Geschwind and Steve Horvath (), who will receive $1.2 million to use mathematical predictions to create cell cultures that are more stable and more similar to functioning neurons in the brain; Feng Zhang (), who was awarded $1 million to develop a highly scalable genomic engineering system that can reliably evaluate the genetic activity that leads to differentiated and matured cells; Jeffrey Macklis (), who will receive $1.5 million to develop molecular timekeepers and "data recorders" that make it easier to observe cell maturation, biological interactions, and diversity; Erik Ullian and David Rowitch (), who were awarded $1 million to test whether the signals from different types of human astrocytes are necessary for the proper maturation and function of human iPSC-derived neurons; William Lowry and Kathrin Plath (), who will receive $1.3 million to use a model system they devised to isolate and identify specific types of neurons thought to be dysfunctional in various disorders including autism, Alzheimer's, and schizophrenia; and Thomas Reh, Rachel Wong, and Fred Rieke (), who were awarded $1.3 million to address two major roadblocks in neuronal maturation — diversity of cells in the brain and the so-called developmental "clock" — in the context of the retina, a self-contained part of the nervous system.
"This new cohort of Allen Distinguished Investigators and their research is especially significant because the field of neuronal maturation is at the leading edge of bioscience," said Tom Skalak, executive director for science and technology at the foundation. "The awardees' broad talents and areas of expertise are what we need to explore this beckoning undiscovered territory."