Reprinted from Chicago Tribune
A generation of baby boomers has watched their parents live to an unprecedented age and confront major brain health issues as a result. Alzheimer’s and dementia have thrown millions of families into crisis as their symptoms steal away the personalities and consciousness of those afflicted.
And those are just two of dozens of maladies and issues caused by the mysterious inner workings of the brain and nervous system.
A small Foundation with disproportionate impact on the landscape of brain science works feverishly to ignite research that will open new avenues to better understanding of brain health issues like autism, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Through six decades of funding important, early-stage research we’ve learned many things,” stated Terre A. Constantine Ph.D., Executive Director of the Brain Research Foundation. (theBRF.org) “Of particular significance is that research findings in one area are valuable by themselves, but potentially help many other areas of brain research as well. Our strategy is to chase the multiplier effect in research that will lead to the multiplier effect in funding.”
The Brain Research Foundation has a history of picking the most promising research. A recent analysis of BRF-funded research found that on average $50,000 in BRF grants for scientific research generated another $1 million in grants from other sources such as NIH. “Our intention is to stimulate interest in worthwhile science and validate research proposals so that they attract more money and create and sustain an independent funding life,” Constantine added.
Identifying potential success early in the effort to understand the brain has never been more important because historic funding sources have gotten smaller or gone away entirely. The country’s major source of scientific funding is the National Institutes of Health, which in 2013 reduced its budget for research by $1.55 billion.
The Brain Research Foundation has expanded its reach as that of other organizations has narrowed. This year marks the first that the Foundation is requesting proposals from throughout the entire United States and North America. This expansion makes Brain Research Foundation grants accessible to scientists and institutions in important research centers that include the Northeast, West Coast, North Carolina, the Foundation’s historical base of the Midwest and others.
Part of the Foundation’s efforts are steered towards non-research initiatives, centered on education and focused on brain health. The Brain Research Foundation has been active in the national discussion of the sports-related head injury issue. Through its grant making arm the Foundation supports initiatives that evaluate coaches’ and stakeholder knowledge levels in response to sports concussion, and through its education arm, funds initiatives to educate and train coaches and school health professionals on proper response to head injuries.
Where does the 60 year-old organization go from here? The Foundation’s newest initiative is a grant that will fund research into the relationship between exercise and slowing cognitive decline. If early research is correct and brain acuity can be lengthened by regular exercise, understanding the mechanism behind this may offer scientists, health professionals, and an aging population a partial reprieve from dementia and Alzheimer’s. The prospect of protecting brain health may motivate those averse to exercise into regular, sustained physical activity.
The Foundation kicked off this initiative this past year by conducting a survey on exercise and cognitive decline. While only a small percentage of people said they currently exercise for the brain health benefits, 74% said they would be more likely to exercise if it delayed cognitive decline.
The Brain Research Foundation is dedicated to improving scientific understanding of the brain so that current and future generations can live with healthier brains. Initiating science that leads or contributes to medical solutions will continue to be central to that effort for the next 60 years.