In 2004, NIDA and 15 other NIH Institutes convened to address a challenge posed, in a sense, by an embarrassment of riches. In recent decades, neuroscientists had developed powerful new tools and techniques that yielded extraordinary insights into the working of the brain. The potential for future discoveries appeared limitless. However, without an overarching plan to assimilate, coordinate, and disseminate this burgeoning wealth of knowledge in an organized, coherent way, there was a risk that the resources could be wasted and progress slowed by inefficient or duplicative efforts.
The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research is that plan. It provides a knowledge- and resource-sharing system for NIH-funded neuroscientists, allowing them access to an extraordinary array of data, advanced research tools, and technical assistance. More than 125 neuroscience program directors and staff contribute to the Blueprint's projects and initiatives.
The Blueprint consortium assesses the field's needs and sets annual goals. In 2005 and 2006, it concentrated on strengthening resources applicable across broad areas of neuroscience research, including animal models, informatics, gene and protein expression, neuroimaging, and behavioral assessments used in clinical research. From this focus emerged a variety of resources, all of which are available to all NIH researchers on the Blueprint Web site (neuroscienceblueprint.nih.gov). Among many other assets, researchers can find:
- A comprehensive menu of animal models for neurological research, with training in their use. Through this site, researchers can obtain and learn to use the appropriate models to study a particular neurological disease, for example, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
- The Neuroscience Information Framework (NIF), a Web site that organizes vast amounts of neuroscience research data from around the world. Here investigators can tap into, for example, databases of the nervous system as well as others involved with neurological diseases. In addition, scientists can access research tools, resources, and services for designing and interpreting gene expression studies.
- An NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function, containing a set of standard assessment tests. Along with relieving researchers of the expenditures of time, effort, and funds needed to develop assessments on their own, this resource facilitates comparison and compilation of data across studies.
In 2007, the Blueprint consortium initiated a 3-year plan to develop and share research tools in neurodegeneration, neurodevelopment, and neuroplasticity. NIDA and the National Institute of Mental Health are leading the planning for the 2009 neuroplasticity initiative, which aims to accelerate advances in the understanding of how brain cells adapt to experience by forming new neural circuits. We anticipate that it will provide a wealth of insights into how the healthy brain grows and learns, as well as how it changes when affected by diseases such as drug addiction.