University of Pittsburgh
October 2, 2018

Pitt Receives $5 Million Grant from DSF Charitable Foundation for ‘Magellan-like’ Effort to Map the Brain


Joe Miksch


Cell: 412-997-0314

PITTSBURGH—Neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute (UPBI) were awarded a three-year, $5 million grant from the DSF Charitable Foundation to launch a major effort to map neural networks throughout the brain and understand how these networks generate behavior.

These functional brain mapping efforts will create an invaluable resource that promises to redefine the way scientists conduct studies of the brain and behavior, and pave the way for important discoveries that will help tackle diseases like Parkinson’s, depression and substance abuse disorders.

“The DSF Charitable Foundation is an exceptional partner in helping the University of Pittsburgh explore some of the most complex issues in modern medicine,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “And now, with the foundation’s support, Pitt researchers will continue adding detail and definition to our understanding of the human brain. It’s work that will have a pervasive reach and a profound impact on the future of neuroscience research.”  

The grant supports two tightly linked UPBI initiatives, the Atlas of Brain Networks and the Atlas of Behavior, which aim to answer one of the central questions in neuroscience: how does behavior emerge from networks of neurons? Better understanding of how the brain produces behavior and how behavior in turn alters the brain will uniquely position researchers at Pitt’s Brain Institute to more effectively address complex diseases.

“The DSF Charitable Foundation is pleased to continue our two-decade partnership with Pitt in neuroscience,” noted David N. Scaife, chairman of the DSF Charitable Foundation. “The Brain Atlas initiative promises to achieve our shared goals of advancing the science and improving the diagnosis and treatment of devastating diseases and medical conditions. ”

With DSF support, Peter Strick — Thomas Detre Professor of Neuroscience, distinguished professor and chair of neurobiology in the Pitt School of Medicine, and scientific director of UPBI — will first explore whether exposure to drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, produce distinct alterations in the organization of neural networks. The techniques developed in this project will then be used to uncover the blueprints for other important brain pathways.

“The DSF Charitable Foundation award sets the stage for us to become the pre-eminent resource for neuroscientists across the world,” Strick said. “This funding will help us to transform research into a wide range of neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases.” 

Over the last two years, Pitt has received more than $10 million in private philanthropy for neuroscience research from generous foundations and individual donors. This latest DSF Charitable Foundation award builds on a number of transformational awards it has made to Pitt, including a multimillion-dollar gift to launch the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and house its operations in new, state-of-the art laboratories.

The Atlas projects anticipate the next phase of the federal BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, in which novel tools and techniques will be used to gather new kinds of data about the brain and its functions. Recent BRAIN Initiative grants to Pitt include a $2.2 million, five-year award last fall to refine a model of how neurons in the brain compute information. The foundation’s gift also complements a National Institutes of Health award to Strick, which was announced Oct. 2. Strick was selected to receive a $6 million, five-year 2018 NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award for a groundbreaking project to identify the brain areas that influence, and in some instances control, the function of the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and immune systems

Strick and his team will establish a structural framework for the brain-body connection.  Their results could inspire new treatment options for illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and stress-related heart disease.