This Foundation Battles Mental Illness With Lots of Small Grants to Researchers

This is a little like that old (or not-so-old) hypothetical quandary: Would you rather fight one lion, or a hundred ducks? Would you rather give out one enormous, roaring grant, or 200 smaller ones? The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation recently chose option two, sending out two hundred $60,000, two-year awards like so many winged monkeys to promising young investigators working at unraveling the roots of mental illness.

Related - Brain & Behavior Research Foundation: Grants for Mental Health

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has been in the young investigator game a long time. It began the program in 1987, and since then, it has awarded nearly 3,500 of the awards, investing over $200 million in the process. "The Foundation believes that scientific breakthroughs come from encouraging people to think outside the box," says Nobel prize winner and Scientific Council member Dr. Eric Kandel. "By having the best scientists in the field select the most promising research projects to fund, the Foundation has consistently sponsored research that has led to important advances to improve the lives of those with mental illness."

And the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation keeps track of its Young Investigator alums. The grants are seen as springboards, and in many cases, they lead to future funding. As it turns out, Young Investigator grantee alumni are awarded an average of 11 times the original grant amount they received from the foundation, from other grantmaking organizations. Some alumni have received even more subsequent funding.

Take Dr. Helen Mayberg, for instance. In 1991, Dr. Mayberg received a Young Investigators grant; since then, she has been awarded $8.5 million in additional grants for her research into Advanced Deep Brain Stimulation to treat depression.

The grants themselves are broad. Other than going to a just-starting-out investigator, each of the 200 grants has no specification as to whether it will be used for identifying mental illness causes, improving treatments, or developing prevention strategies. You just have to be young and committed. Past applicants have enjoyed a 25 percent success rate: not exactly a cake walk, but a far sight better than the NIH’s 16.8 percent.