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Spotlight on Research: An Interview with Jeffrey Borenstein, MD President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

What does the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation do?

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is the largest non-governmental funder of mental health research grants in the world. The Foundation funds the most innovative ideas in psychiatry and neuroscience to better understand the causes and develop new ways to effectively treat brain and behavior disorders. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. BBRF grants support a broad range of the best ideas in brain research and our grantees have taken substantial steps forward on the path to developing new treatments and finding cures for mental illness.

What kind of grants do you fund?
BBRF supports approximately 400 Young Investigator Grantees, 80 Independent Investigator Grantees and 15 Distinguished Investigator Grantees each year. These grants enable these outstanding scientists to pursue new, cutting-edge ideas to answer important questions or help identify new potentially game-changing targets for treatments.

The Young Investigator research grant program was initiated in 1987 to help researchers launch careers in neuroscience and psychiatry. This unique program is intended to facilitate innovative research opportunities and supports basic, translational and clinical researchers and helps expedite the gathering of crucial pilot data necessary for future funding. The Foundation’s Independent Investigator research grant program was initiated in 1995 to support mid-career scientists during the critical period between initiation of research and receipt of sustained funding and our Distinguished Investigator research grant program was initiated in 1988 to enable outstanding scientists to pursue new, cutting-edge ideas with the greatest potential for breakthroughs.

What kind of research do you support?

BBRF supports innovative research studies that offer the potential for breakthrough discoveries. These discoveries are changing what it means to live with mental illness.

Our Grants support a broad range of the best ideas in brain research. Funding for our grants is focused on four priority areas to better understand and treat mental illness, aiming toward prevention and ultimately cures. These areas include: Basic Research to understand what happens in the brain to cause mental illness; New Technologies to advance or create new ways of studying and understanding the brain; Diagnostic Tools and Early Intervention to recognize early signs of mental illness and treat as early as possible; and Next Generation Therapies to reduce symptoms of mental illness and ultimately cure and prevent brain and behavior disorders.

Who selects your grantees? All Foundation Grant projects are selected by the 176 members of our all-volunteer Scientific Council which is led by Dr. Herbert Pardes and comprised of leading neuroscientists across disciplines in brain and behavior research. The Scientific Council includes two Nobel Laureates and four former and the current director of the National Institute of Mental Health. These men and women are uniquely qualified to identify new research projects that may be unproven but offer potential for significant breakthroughs. They select the most promising ideas in which to invest, whether proposed by budding early career neuroscientists or by established scientists seeking to explore new paths.

To date, how many grantees have you funded?

We started with 10 grants in 1987 totaling $250,000. By the end of 2017 we had awarded more than $380 million to more than 4,500 grantees in the U.S. and 34 other countries. Over the past 30 years we have helped psychiatry and neuroscience advance significantly and have established great momentum in the field.

What have BBRF grantees achieved?

Typically, BBRF grants lead to additional funding from government, universities and industry sources. A survey of our grantees revealed that Foundation grants increased a researchers’ ability to secure additional grant support. So, the $380 million in grants awarded to date has resulted in more than $3.8 billion in additional brain research funding for these scientists.

In fact, a recent RAND Europe analysis of the global mental health research funding landscape found that we are the top non-governmental funder cited in published articles and virtually every scientific journal in psychiatry, neuroscience, molecular biology, and genetics includes articles on the research achievements of BBRF grantees. Highlights of our grantees are many and the totality of their work showcases progress and advances in psychiatric diagnostic tools, treatments, and technologies.

What kind of advancements have BBRF researchers found as a result of funding?

Advancements funded by our grants continue to define the leading edge of all research in the mental health field. Examples include the use of Clozaril for the treatment of schizophrenia, optogenetics which helps scientists around the world to better understand the brain, transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression and other conditions, deep brain stimulation for treatment resistant depression, the ongoing development of rapid-acting anti-depressants, and as shown on 60 Minutes this past May, magnetic stimulation therapy that can be used to treat depression without causing the memory loss that can happen with ECT.

What kind of public education does the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation do?

In addition to funding research, the Foundation spearheads ongoing campaigns to raise awareness and educate the public about research. Free monthly webinars for the lay public, feature conversations with leading scientists on topics that include mechanisms of antidepressant effects, child and adolescent anxiety, understanding the chaos and complexity of borderline personality disorder, addiction as a brain disease, new approaches to treating depression, and the adolescent brain and mood disorder risk.

BBRF holds an annual mental health research symposium in New York City in October with complimentary admission so the lay public can hear presentations on the current research happening in the labs of BBRF grantees and prizewinners. This year’s symposium will be on Friday, October 26th at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City.

We also hold a monthly “Meet the Scientist” webinar series which I moderate where people can learn about the latest research from international experts in the field of brain and behavior research. The Foundation also produces the Emmy nominated public television series Healthy Minds which aims to remove the stigma of mental illness, educate the public and offer a message of hope by shedding light on common psychiatric conditions through inspiring personal stories and experts sharing cutting edge information on treatment. As the host of Healthy Minds, my goal is to inspire conversations about mental illness, and provide understandable information and resources for viewers.

Information is available on our website,, and on our social media channels which include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and You Tube.

How is Brain & Behavior Research Foundation funded?

One hundred percent of donor contributions for research are invested in our grants leading to advances and breakthroughs in brain and behavior research. This is made possible by the generous support of two-family foundations which cover the Foundation’s operating expenses.

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