UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences Program in Neuroscience Innovation

UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences

Program in Neuroscience Innovation

2016 Proposal Submission is Closed. We Received 70 Interesting Proposals - 46 Innovation Award Applications and 24 Scholar Award Applications!

2016 Weill Awardees

The UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, established by the extraordinary generosity of Joan and Sanford I. Weill, brings together world-class researchers with top-ranked physicians to solve some of the most complex challenges in the human brain.

The UCSF Weill Institute leverages UCSF’s unrivaled bench-to-bedside excellence in the neurosciences. It unites three UCSF departments - Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurological Surgery - that are highly esteemed for both patient care and research as well as the Neuroscience Graduate Program, a cross-disciplinary alliance of nearly 100 UCSF faculty members from 15 basic-science departments, which awards doctoral degrees in a variety of research areas. Also included is the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, a multidisciplinary research center focused on finding effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders. By integrating these areas, UCSF strengthens an already stellar record across the neurosciences.

The Institute’s Program in Neuroscience Innovation seeks to fuel innovation in neuroscience by fostering high risk, high impact, clinical/translational research through funding of highly meritorious research projects and supporting high-potential neuroscience researchers, both enabling investigators to pursue ideas that might not be easily fundable by other mechanisms.

The target for this program is clinical and translational research focused on a broad spectrum of neuroscience challenges, including therapeutics, diagnostics, imaging technology, biomarker discovery/validation, and computational methods. We seek to support creative research projects that are focused on improved patient outcomes, especially those that employ concepts of convergent neuroscience research, crossing levels of analysis from genomics and imaging to behavior and implementation, and considering the dimension of time.

Funding has been generously provided by Joan and Sanford I. Weill to drive innovative and collaborative efforts across disciplines focused on neuroscience challenges. For 2016 and 2017, the Neurosciences Innovation Award will fund up to 3 research awards at up to $600,000 (total budget) for up to 3 years and the Neurosciences Scholar Award will provide up to $100,000 for up to 6 investigators for 1 year (carryforward allowed).

The awardees for the 2016 Weill Institute for Neurosciences Program in Neuroscience Innovation are:

Weill Innovation Awards


Proposal Title

Project Summary

Robert Edwards

The Dual Role of a-Synuclein in Neurodegeneration

The protein α-synuclein has a central role in Parkinson’s disease (PD); however, there is evidence that synuclein can both protect against neural degeneration and cause PD. The long-term objective of this project is to understand this apparent functional contradiction. We hypothesize that these two functions are distinct but related. The strategy is to use the function of synuclein in intracellular trafficking and exocytosis as an entry-point to elucidate its role in degeneration.

Mark von Zastrow
Brian Shoichet
Nevan Krogan

Probing the Pathways of Pain and Addiction with a New Therapeutic Lead

The development of effective drugs to treat pain launched the modern pharmaceutical era. Opioid analgesics, which is a category of drugs containing morphine and codeine, has enabled surgical interventions and brought relief to hundreds of millions of patients; however, most are fraught which adverse side-effects and have profound addictive liabilities. This project will use an innovative multi-faceted approach to explore potential new analgesics with fewer adverse side effects.

Peter Walter
Susanna Rosi

Deciphering the Molecular Basis of Brain Injury-Induced Dementia

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), resulting from blunt trauma to the head, is a major mental health problem with debilitating consequences, including memory loss and cognitive decline. In a recent study we conducted in mice, we found that traumatic brain injury (TBI) activates the integrated stress response (ISR) in the hippocampus, the brain’s center for memory formation. For this project, we will evaluate a drug-like small-molecule that has been shown to inhibit the ISR and its applicability towards treating traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Yin Shen
Arnold Kriegstein

Investigating Individual Susceptibility to Complex Neurodevelopment Diseases Via Functional Genomics

The role of genetics in complex neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia, remains largely unknown. Our preliminary analyses show there are tens of thousands of small genetic variations are found more often in patients with these disorders, but it is unclear how many of the variations contribute to these neurological diseases and how. For this study, we will utilize novel functional genomics tools to identify important yet subtle genetic variations that contribute to neurological diseases.

Amy Gelfand
Steve Cummings
John Boscardin
Andrew Charles

Melatonin for Adolescent Migraine Prevention-An Innovative “Remote Trial” to Accelerate Clinical Research in Child Neurology

A safe, effective, and well-tolerated treatment for migraines adolescents, which affects 5-8% of the population, is urgently needed. Melatonin is a natural supplement that is available over counter to improve sleep in children and adolescents. In addition, recent studies have shown it also has the potential to be used as a migraine preventive. This project will use an innovative “remote trial” approach and perform a randomized placebo-controlled trial that evaluates the efficacy of melatonin for migraine prevention in adolescents.

Stephan Sanders
Riley Bove
Kate Rankin

Developing the Neuropsychiatry Clinics of the Future

Access to relevant, up-to-date, and accurate clinical information is vital to treating patients and advancing research. To accomplish this, the project will develop a state of the art neuropsychiatric clinic. The clinic will include an informatics system that simplifies data input, integrates pre-existing databases, and develops easy-to-use dashboards customized for clinical and research use. By doing so, the new clinic will give patients, clinicians, and researchers access to a diverse set of information on which to base clinical decisions.

Daniel Lim
Geoffrey Manley

Long Noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) as Highly Specific Biomarkers of Brain Injury

The goal of this project is to develop a highly specific and sensitive diagnostic blood test for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) via the detection of long non-coding RNAs. Since many long noncoding RNAs are expressed specifically and abundantly in the brain, they have great potential to serve as a biomarker of brain injury. If successful, the proposed diagnostic technology could directly improve the care of millions of patients with mTBI by providing a more accurate, less subjective test for the management of those with brain injury.

Michael Wilson
Samuel Pleasure
Joseph DeRisi

Generating Patient-Derived Monoclonal Antibodies to Probe the Underlying Basis of Neuroinflammatory Diseases: A Single Cell Approach

While antibodies play a critical role in our body’s ability to fight infections, they have also been implicated in some neuroinflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS). However, a major obstacle to studying these antibodies, and their targets (called antigens), is the limited supply of biological samples. This project will use new, innovative tools to examine samples at the single-cell resolution, and therefore greatly accelerating UCSF’s antibody-antigen discovery and neurobiology research programs.

Lisa Gunaydin

Biomarkers for Susceptibility and Resilience in Anxiety and Compulsive Behaviors

Using a mouse model of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the team will take an interdisciplinary approach to discover new biological clues, or biomarkers, for anxiety and compulsive behavior. This work has the potential to not only uncover why some individuals appear to be more susceptible, or resilient, to developing anxiety disorders, but also provide a rich set of targets upon which to develop novel drugs and treatments.


Scholar Awards


Proposal Title

Project Summary

Mazen Kheirbeck

Illuminating Novel Targets for the Treatment of Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Dr. Kheirbek’s primary research goal has been to delineate the circuit mechanisms that underlie psychiatric diseases in order to develop better therapies. For this project, he seeks to identify the cell types and neurological circuit that links mood and anxiety disorders to the reduction in the volume of the hippocampus, a region of the brain.

Michael Oldham

Spatial Transcriptomics of the Human Brain

This study will integrate gene expression data and their spatial distribution in tissue sections to develop mathematical models that can accurately predict the cellular composition of human brain samples.

Alexandra Nelson

Role of Striosomes in Parkinson’s Disease and Levodopa-Induced Dyskinesia

Dr. Nelson’s research focuses on pathological patterns of striosomes, a chemical compartment in the portion of the brain, whose activity is thought to be related to neurological diseases affecting both movement and cognition.

Raquel C. Gardner

Defining Clinical Trajectories after Traumatic Brain Injury

Utilize two very large traumatic brain injury (TBI) databases to discover novel predictors of poor outcomes after a TBI. Ultimately, this work will allow clinicians to better identify highly vulnerable patients who should be targeted for treatment like intensive rehabilitation and/or drug trials, directly leading to improved patient care.

Louis Ptáček

Characterization of PNKD Enzymatic Function and Its Role in Synaptic Regulation

Characterization of an novel protein produced by individuals with paroxysmal non-kinesigenic dyskinesia, or PNKD, which is a genetically-inherited disorder of the nervous system that causes periods of involuntary movement.

Maggie Waung

Dissecting Migraine with Optogenetics

Use a diverse tool kit to elucidate the brain circuits underlying chronic headache pain and discover the basis for migraine’s prevalence among females.


Program Announcement

May 25th

Post Request For Proposal

June 9th

Notice of Intent Deadline

not required

Proposal Submission Deadline

July 15th

Scientific Review Period and Finalist Selection

July 15th – August 10th

Finalist PI Live presentations and Selection by Steering Committee

August 24th (live presentations)

Announcement of Award

September 1st

Approximate Funding Start Date

October 14th

UCSF Weill Neurosciences Innovation Award:

You are invited to submit proposals for the UCSF Weill Neurosciences Innovation Award that

  • Support clinical/translational neuroscience research projects focused on clinical care, therapeutics, diagnostics, improved imaging technology and methods, biomarker discovery and validation, and computational methods needed to address analysis of neuroscience data.
  • Seeks high-risk thinking or approaches, with defined milestones and deliverables, that deliver patient-relevant solutions.

See Call for Proposals for eligibility, proposal and application instructions, deadlines, criteria and selection process. See rdo.ucsf.edu for funding program information and weill.ucsf.edu for information on the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

UCSF Weill Neurosciences Scholar Award:

We recognize that 1) faculty salaries are not often supported adequately by traditional funding mechanisms, that 2) sometimes essential components of clinical research are not easily funded, e.g., cohort development or programs of clinical care, and that 3) lending direct support to high-potential individuals allows those creative researchers to pursue ideas and approaches that might not be easily fundable by other mechanisms. To address these issues, you are invited to submit a Neurosciences Scholar Award application for funding that awardees can use as they see fit. These proposals should

  • Support clinical/translational neuroscience research efforts focused on clinical care, clinical trial development, therapeutics, diagnostics, improved imaging technology and methods, biomarker discovery and validation, and computational methods needed to address analysis of neuroscience data.
  • Support the innovative research efforts of highly productive, high-potential neuroscience researchers, especially enabling support of research program components that can be more difficult to fund, e.g., clinical researcher salary, cohort development, etc.

See Call for Proposals for eligibility, proposal and application instructions, deadlines, criteria and selection process. See rdo.ucsf.edu for funding program information and weill.ucsf.edu for information on the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences.