Kavli and The BRAIN Initiative


The Kavli Foundation is continuing its support for the goals of the BRAIN Initiative and for innovative brain research. Consistent with its commitment in 2013, Kavli and its University Partners have commited $100 Million to brain research by forming three new Kavli Institutes in addition to supporting its existing four institutes.

The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

The Kavli Foundation is continuing its support for the goals of the BRAIN Initiative and for innovative brain research. Consistent with its commitment in 2013, Kavli and its University Partners have commited $100 Million to brain research by forming three new Kavli Institutes in addition to supporting its existing four institutes.

The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.Kavli and The BRAIN Initiative

General Information

Web Information

Website:  kavlifoundation.org/
YouTube Channel:  youtube.com/user/KavliFoundation
Twitter:  twitter.com/KavliFoundation

Facebook: facebook.com/KavliFoundation
Wikipedia Entry: wiki/The_Kavli_Foundation

Contact Information

Email: Contact form
Phone: 805.983.6000
Address: The Kavli Foundation
1801 Solar Drive , Suite 250
Oxnard, CA 93030

Board of Directors

Rockell N. Hankin, LLB
Chairman of the Board

Robert W. Conn, PhD
President and Chief Executive Officer

Mary Sue Coleman
President Emerita, University of Michigan

Thomas E. Everhart
President Emeritus, California Institute of Technology

Douglas K. Freeman, Esq.
Senior Managing Director, First Foundation Advisors

Richard A. Meserve
President Emeritus, Carnegie Institution for Science

Gunnar K. Nilsen
President, BizArch Advisors

Henry T. Yang
Chancellor, University of California, Santa Barbara

Officers and Staff

Robert W. Conn, PhD
President and Chief Executive Officer

Miyoung Chun, PhD
Executive Vice President of Science Programs

James Cohen
Director of Communications and Public Outreach

Judy Darley
Human Resources Manager and Chief of Staff

Christopher Martin Ph.D.
Science Program Officer

Nadine Stern
Kavli Prize Program Officer
Contracts and Grants Administrator

Sharif Taha Ph.D.
Science Program Officer

Tamar Cohen
Executive Assistant to the President and CEO

Mary Cosgrove
Executive Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Science Programs

Nicholas Tovar
Information Technology and Communications Specialist



The BRAIN Initiative Fact Sheet 9/30/14

The Kavli Foundation is continuing its support for the goals of the BRAIN Initiative and for innovative brain research: Consistent with its commitment in 2013,

The Kavli Foundation intends to spend $40 million over the next ten years in support of the BRAIN Initiative. The Kavli Foundation will establish two new endowed neuroscience institutes by the end of 2015, which will join an existing worldwide network of Kavli Institutes. The Kavli Foundation is also fostering new cross-disciplinary opportunities between neuroscience and the physical sciences through regular meetings on campuses nationwide. With GE healthymagination, HHMI, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, it has established a program, “Neurodata Without Borders,” that promotes the sharing of neuroscience data among scientists. Recognizing the critical importance of a diversity of funding sources, the Foundation is leading efforts to forge new alliances among scientists, philanthropy, and industry through pilot projects.

Kavli and University Partners Commit $100 Million to Brain Research

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thursday, October 1, 2015 – The Kavli Foundation and its university partners announced today the commitment of more than $100 million in new funds to enable research aimed at deepening our understanding of the brain and brain-related disorders, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Funds will be used to strengthen public/private BRAIN Initiative; establish new neuroscience institutes at Johns Hopkins University, The Rockefeller University and the University of California, San Francisco

Bolstering the Investment in Brain Research

October 1, 2015 at 9:30 – 11:00 am EDT
United States Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C.

Spnsored by The Kavli Foundation

This briefing will provide details about new funding and research endeavors, including a new commitment to support brain research with The Kavli Foundation in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, The Rockefeller University and the University of California, San Francisco. A discussion will focus on the BRAIN Initiative and on the future of neuroscience moderated by Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Joining the discussion will be leaders from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

The Brain Activity Map Project

Learn more from Kavli web page

In 2011, neuroscientists and nanoscientists had an idea for revolutionizing our understanding the brain. Now that idea is a national challenge, as President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative seeks to decipher the neural code that gives rise to our perceptions and experience.

The Brain Activity Map was conceived to fill this huge gap in our understanding of the brain by deciphering the neural code that gives rise to our perceptions and experiences. The idea was raised in 2011, when 13 neuroscientists and 14 nanoscientists met at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre outside London for a special symposium entitled: “Opportunities at the Interface of Neuroscience and Nanoscience.”  During this meeting, the prospect of mapping the functioning brain was discussed. Eighteen months later, the Brain Activity Map Project proposal, and the scientists who propelled BAM, would prove catalytic to President Obama’s  Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The science community now looks to the challenges ahead, as well as the opportunities that will come from achieving what has been described as “the Holy Grail” of neuroscience.

86 Billion Neurons

The brain contains about 90 billion neurons – almost as many as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Communication between these cells is thought to underlie brain function, but studying that communication has proved enormously challenging. That’s partly because neurons form an almost unfathomable number of connections – somewhere in the range of 100 trillion, researchers estimate. Another difficulty is that these connections are constantly in flux, forming networks of neurons that consist of millions of interactions, continually shifting their shape and evolving based on what a person experiences. Current techniques allow neuroscientists to capture live signals either from just a few hundred neurons at a time or from large swathes of brain topography at once, but neither scale is sufficient to yield a comprehensive picture of brain activity. Instead, researchers believe that the activity generated by large assemblies of thousands or millions of neurons holds the key to understanding how the brain’s physiology gives rise to cognition and consciousness. Charting the activity of entire networks of neurons “is the major thing to be done to make a breakthrough in our understanding of how the brain works,” says John Donoghue, Director of the Institute for Brain Science at Brown University and a neuroscientist who studies how the brain encodes information and develops prosthetic devices for patients with paralysis.

Re-Imaging Neuroscience

The focus on properties of single neurons was the driving force of neuroscience in the 1900s and remains so even today. But it has proved to be a limited approach. Just as you cannot glean the characteristics of a magnet by studying each atom it contains in isolation, so the complexities of the brain cannot be grasped by examining the functional properties of each individual neuron, measured alone.

The BAM project was conceived to do just that. The proponents of the BAM Project proposal focused on mapping large populations of neurons that would provide scientists an unprecedented understanding of the dynamics underlying this crucial middle scale at which consciousness and cognition emerge, but have so far lacked the tools to study. “For the first time, we would be getting close to the point where we can actually understand not just the way that the brain processes information, but how we hope and desire and think, our emotions and our goals,” says Terrence Sejnowski, a computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in LaJolla, California and member of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC, San Diego.

By focusing on the middle scale, researchers would finally be able to test hypotheses about the physiological basis of mind. For example, scientists could confirm or disprove whether an experience was truly linked with specific brain circuitry by first identifying networks activated when a rat encounters, say, an anxiety-provoking event, and afterwards stimulating that same network directly to determine whether the animal shows evidence of experiencing the same mental state. The proponents also saw BAM as dovetailing with a handful of other major initiatives recently launched to shed light on the brain. The Human Connectome Project, for example, has begun to map the pathways of neurons in the human brain – that is, the bundles of fibers that serve as the roadways along which electrical and chemical activity travels. In combination, the two mapping efforts would provide both the anatomical and the functional dimensions of the brain.

The BAM Project proposal, and now the BRAIN Initiative, share close parallels with another biology-based “Big Science” project – the Human Genome Project (HGP), a 12-year, $3 billion race to sequence the complete human genome completed a decade ago. When the HGP first appeared on the horizon in the 1980s, geneticists were extremely interested in sequencing but were not making use of advances in computing that could revolutionize their tools. “The field was over-ripe, but not moving as fast as it could,” says George Church, a geneticist and synthetic biologist at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who played a leading role in the HGP. “The same thing is going on here. The neuroscience world has been ignoring the opportunities provided by recent advances in nanotechnology and synthetic biology.” Just as the HGP fueled a transformation in genomics both by changing how we think about medicine and by launching entire new areas of industry, so an iniative of this scale would have the potential to propel our ability to understand the brain to a new level and to create commercial opportunities that can provide an economic boost both in the US and abroad.

Technology at the Crossroads

Mapping activity in the brain will require several lines of technological development aimed at inventing the next generation of tools for measuring and instigating brain cell activity. Historically, researchers have recorded neuronal activity by using microelectrodes that physically pierce the brain. These probes, which are already being used in humans, are capable of both sampling neurons’ electrical properties and delivering voltage with great temporal and spatial precision. But the number of neurons at a time with which microelectrode arrays can interface must be increased several-fold while making sure the scale-up does not cause damage to brain tissue. That requires miniaturizing the technology as well as developing wireless devices that can transmit data into and out of the brain speedily and over long periods of time.

Another avenue of advancement involves the use of light-based technologies that can both detect and manipulate how and when neurons fire. Current microscopes and objectives are designed to focus light with great precision onto a single point in space, but targeting the activity of entire circuits of neurons will require the ability to image them in three dimensions. In parallel, researchers will need to devise molecular sensors that that can reliably register changes in electrical or chemical activity, as well as drive such changes, with single-neuron precision and in real time.

Scientists are also beginning to come up with completely novel kinds of molecular machines that consist of living cells biologically engineered to perform a specific purpose. Such tiny engines could be designed to gauge voltage changes in neurons and could deployed directly into the brain to perform the job. This armory of tools could likely spawn devices with medical and technological implications that cannot yet be predicted.

Disorders of the Brain and Mind

Disorders of the brain and mind – schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and epilepsy, to name just a few – take an enormous toll on individuals, their families and society at large. Researchers increasingly believe that many such conditions are closely associated with disruptions in brain activity patterns. Mapping these patterns will thus empower researchers to develop tools for rebalancing circuitry when it goes awry.

Already, researchers have developed devices such as deep brain stimulators for treating Parkinson’s disease, cochlear implants for restoring minimal hearing in profoundly deaf people, and a computer interface called BrainGate that allows fully paralyzed individuals to accomplish simple tasks via a robotic arm. These interventions are beginning to make use of our rudimentary understanding of brain circuitry, but understanding the language of the brain with a high level of precision will sharply boost researchers’ capabilities to recreate some of its more complex functions. Knowing how specific patterns of activity are switched on and off might suggest ways that educators could engage certain networks to facilitate different types of learning, for example, or could serve as a blueprint for developing a new wave of artificial intelligence devices.

As these different techniques become available, researchers could simultaneously apply them to different model organisms. For example, animals such as worms or flies have simple enough nervous systems that they could be mapped in their entirety relatively quickly, to form testable hypotheses about complete cortical circuits. Studies in organisms such as mice, meanwhile, can be used to examine more complex functions or perfect novel approaches for use in humans. Meanwhile, human studies are already beginning to probe the relationship between disturbances in brain networks and disability and disease.

In order to make sense of this data, researchers will need computational resources for assembling, analyzing and sharing the masses of data that different components of the initiative will produce. That will involve harnessing approaches used in industries such as search engine technology, telecommunications and film animation, which are already adept at dealing with high volumes of information. So far, efforts to create comprehensive theories about how brain activity generates the mind have been hampered simply by the lack of data on how large assemblies of neurons function. This initiative however would provide the foundation for researchers to begin developing truly testable hypotheses of brain function. “The reality is, until you’ve collected the information, you can’t really make good models of how things work,” says nanomaterials scientist Paul Alivisatos, a nanomaterials scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in developing nanoscale technologies.

Into the Future

Many laboratories are already working on developing the technologies that an initiative like this will require. Because of its scope, however, success will require a centralized, collective effort on a grand scale. In turn, it will generate multiple lasting benefits.

First, it will produce a slew of novel techniques that will filter into neuroscience labs around the world, and allow researchers to make discoveries that are not possible today. “Once we start to correlate particular patterns of activity to behaviors or mental states,” says Rafael Yuste, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who studies mammalian brain circuitry, “we will reinvent neuroscience as a field.” The initiative will also re-chart the landscape of neurological and psychiatric disorders. A thorough understanding of the underlying chemistry and electrical activity of the brain will lead to a new suite of approaches for precise diagnosis and effective treatments that allow clinicians to restore disrupted or damaged neuronal circuits.

The collaborative roots in nanotechnology and engineering of a project such as this will also have far-reaching effects. Smart miniature sensors and other tools developed for the purposes of measuring brain activity will be based on technological advancements with applications in many other fields. And just as the HGP generated as much as a 200-fold return on the $3.8 billion dollars invested in the project, new industries launched by innovations made within the BRAIN initiative are likely to bring a similar level of economic benefit. Finally, the intensive focus on cross-disciplinary research has the potential of reaping the rewards of a different sort of investment as well – one in training a new generation of scientists who will seek to continue working at the intersection of biological and physical sciences research.


Kavli Futures Symposium

John Donoghue was one of a multidisciplinary group of 16 scientists who spoke at the Kavli Futures Symposium: The Novel Neurotechnologies that Rafael Yuste called “a dazzling feast of exciting ideas.” Yuste is Co-Director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University in New York and the Director of the new NeuroTechnology Center, which hosted the two-day event late last year.BrainGate is part of a surge of new tools that are revolutionizing how neuroscientists study and treat the brain. But as remarkable as it is, BrainGate also highlights the enormous challenges these tech pioneers face. Cathy’s surrogate arm moves far more slowly and less accurately than a human limb because neuroscientists still lack the tools to effectively read out the brain’s activity; and, second, they don’t understand how the brain computes, or translates, this activity into thoughts and actions.That’s not surprising given that that human brain is, as one presenter at the symposium put it, “insanely complex”—consisting of about 85 million neurons that form trillions of connections. It is also largely uncharted.

The Kavli Futures Symposium provided a sneak preview of the research tools that may soon help unravel this complexity.

Learn more on the Kavli web page

or read the full report, The Novel Neurotechnologies

Special Symposium: Neuroscience in the 21st Century

October 1, 2-5 pm EDT
Live Webcast from Washington, D.C.

Hosted by The Kavli Foundation

This special “mini-symposium”looked at the future of neuroscience and the BRAIN Initiative by hearing from some of the nation’s top neuroscientists, as well as leaders from key federal funding agencies. Moderated by Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Kavli Neuroscience Institutes

Institute for Brain and Mind @UCSD

Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM) researchers bridge disciplinary boundaries to further understanding of the origins, evolution and mechanisms of human cognition, from the brain’s physical and biochemical machinery to the experiences and behaviors we call the mind.

Its advisory board includes scientists and clinicians from UCSD departments of cognitive science, neurobiology, psychology, psychiatry, neurosciences, radiology, and philosophy. The Scripps Research Institute, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and The Neurosciences Institute are also represented on the KIBM board.

Institute for Brain Science @Columbia

The Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University probes the complex network of brain cells and their connections.

Led by Eric Kandel, M.D. (2000 Nobel laureate), and co-directors Thomas Jessell (2008 Kavli Prize laureate) and Rafael Yuste (Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute), the Institute uses advanced imaging technology to observe neurons, synapses, and neural circuits as they develop and function, and as they respond to learning.

Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience @UCSF

The Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience (Kavli IFN) at UCSF will focus initially on understanding brain plasticity, the remarkable capacity of the brain to modify its structure and function.

The Kavli IFN will partner with engineers at two San Francisco Bay-area national laboratories to develop new tools and approaches to brain research.“UCSF scientists have made some of the seminal discoveries in modern neuroscience,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “The Kavli Institute will sustain this rich tradition into the 21st Century.”

Institute for Neuroscience @Yale

The Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale University studies the neurobiological basis of human thought. Following a broad multidisciplinary strategy, it examines how the nerve cells and synaptic circuits of the cerebral cortex enable humans to learn about the outside world and to remember what they already have learned.

Toward this end, it fosters discussion and innovative research among Yale neuroscientists from multiple disciplines, enabling them to contribute novel ideas and approaches in research on cortical evolution, development, organization and function.

Institute for Systems Neuroscience @NTNU

How do we know where we are, where we have been and where we are going? Such are the questions that the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim aims to answer.

The Institute seeks to unlock the secrets of memory by studying the neural microcircuits and networks in the hippocampus and associated areas of the brain, where memory is encoded, stored and retrieved. It focuses in particular on the memory of place and direction that underlies our spatial navigation skills.

Neural Systems Institute @Rockefeller

he Kavli Neural Systems Institute (Kavli NSI) at The Rockefeller University will promote interdisciplinary research and learn to tackle the biggest questions in neuroscience through high-risk, high-reward projects and the development of new research technologies.

“Kavli’s investment in neuroscience at Rockefeller will enable us to create and share new research approaches and laboratory technologies to capture the possibilities of neuroscience from the micro to the macro level,” said Rockefeller President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD. “

Neuroscience Discovery Institute @JHU

The mission of the new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute (Kavli NDI) at JHU is to bring together neuroscientists, engineers and data scientists to investigate neural development, neuronal plasticity, perception and cognition.

“The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will be the solutions we create,” said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. “The Kavli Foundation award is a tremendous honor, because it allows Johns Hopkins to build on our history of pioneering neuroscience and catalyze new partnerships with engineers and data scienctists that will be essential to building a unified understanding of brain function.”

About the Foundation

The Kavli Foundation was established in December 2000 by its founder and benefactor, Fred Kavli, a prominent California business leader and noted philanthropist whose foundation is currently actively involved in establishing major research institutes at leading universities and institutions in the United States, Europe and Asia.

To date, The Kavli Foundation has established Kavli Institutes on the campuses of the University of California Santa Barbara, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Yale University, Columbia University, the University of California San Diego, Harvard University, Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences,  the University of Cambridge, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo, and the University of California, Berkeley.

In addition to the Kavli Institutes, seven Kavli professorships have been established: two at the University of California Santa Barbara, one at University of California Los Angeles, one at the University of California Irvine, one at Columbia University, one at the California Institute of Technology and one at Harvard.

Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-born American, was a physicist, entrepreneur, business leader, innovator and philanthropist. The founder, former chairman and chief executive officer of Kavlico Corporation, he divested his interest in the company and in 2000 established The Kavli Foundation. At the time the company was sold, Kavlico was one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautics, automotive and industrial applications..

The Kavli Foundation is a private foundation qualified under IRC Section 501 (c) (3).

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