FWF Emerging Field Grant awarded to Brain Resilience project

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has awarded an Emerging Fields Grant to Brain Resilience, an interdisciplinary project with the participation of the group of Jürgen Knoblich at IMBA and Daniela Pollak at IMBA and IMP. The project empowers the emerging field of Brain Resilience, which studies how the developing brain resists genetic and environmental adversities.

Today, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) announced that “Brain Resilience”, with project partners Jürgen Knoblich at IMBA and Daniela Pollak at IMP and IMBA, is among the projects funded through the new Emerging Fields initiative. The FWF Emerging Fields initiative is a funding program that supports pioneers in the field of basic research who are prepared to challenge traditional ways of thinking. The Brain Resilience project will study how the human brain can adapt to genetic and environmental challenges during its development. Igor Adameyko at the Medical University Vienna is the project lead, with participation by Jürgen Knoblich and Daniela Pollak, as well as Gaia Novarino, at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA), Christoph Bock, at CeMM, and Roman Romanov at the Medical University Vienna.  

The mammalian brain is formed through complex developmental processes that are controlled by thousands of genes and their interaction with the embryo’s environment during pregnancy. Mutations in genes that regulate brain development can predispose an individual to various neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), including autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability. These disorders are difficult to treat because of their developmental nature – by the time symptoms become manifest, it is usually too late to address the root causes. 

However, genetics research offers an entryway towards causal treatment: surprisingly, many individuals who carry a strong genetic predisposition to NDDs do not develop such disorders. The scientists behind the Brain Resilience project aim to unravel how the intrauterine environment, intimately dependent on the state of the maternal system during pregnancy, can determine why some babies' brains develop normally despite genetic vulnerabilities for NDDs. 

The Brain Resilience project will seek to understand the molecular processes by which a favorable prenatal environment overrides the genetic predisposition to NDD. The project will use animal and organoid models of NDDs to identify the molecular processes affected by  changes in the prenatal environment, with the ultimate goal of developing molecular interventions that can therapeutically boost brain resilience. 

The project will be conducted by an interdisciplinary scientific team that is uniquely suited for establishing and promoting the emerging field of Brain Resilience, with partners that will contribute their strong expertise in cognitive neurobiology, in vitro modeling of brain disorder, bioinformatics, developmental biology, brain structure and function, and maternal-to-progeny communication.  

The transformative impact of this emerging field extends beyond the realm of brain disorders, as it may lay out a path toward learning from and enhancing the human body’s inherent resilience through targeted molecular interventions. 

About the FWF Emerging Fields Grant 

The Emerging Fields program is aimed at funding interdisciplinary consortia of outstanding researchers pursuing pioneering work in basic research who are prepared to depart from established approaches. The program gives researchers the opportunity to pursue particularly innovative, original, or high-risk ideas, focusing on funding research that has the potential to trigger a paradigm shift in its field. 

The program provides 5-year funding of between 3 and 6 million Euros which are divided between the participating project partners. The rigorous selection process, based on the recommendation of a multidisciplinary international jury, ensures that all participants have produced research of high scientific quality by international standards.