Getting Springboard Funding from BrightFocus Foundation

There are funders that only give to old wood, long-established projects and labs and initiatives—you know, the kind that make any upstart PIs sigh dejectedly—but then there are foundations that like to give smallish “springboard”-style grants designed to get new, just-starting-out researchers off and running. Foundations like this want to see never before seen ideas from fresh young minds, and their whole objective is to get promising new ideas out of the “theory” and “hypothesis” phase and into the lab, doing actual models and actual experiments. It’s foundations like this that make life worth living for so many hopefuls wanting an “in” to the world of philanthropy-sponsored science and BrightFocus is among them.

Formerly known as the American Health Assistance Foundation, the Clarksburg, MD-based BrightFocus Foundation has given away over $130 million since its start in 1973. Though it has programs that seek to address macular degeneration and glaucoma, its Alzheimer’s research program gets the bulk of its funding, giving away about $4 million per year to worthy recipients. As foundations go, it’s remarkably transparent, showing off all of its recent grant recipients and providing links to their research from their website—and they, like others, favor funding newbie researchers whose ideas are good but work isn’t yet eligible for the wider world of big industrial and governmental grants.

A look at BrightFocus’s grants list from 2013 reveals grants to some big names—Columbia, MIT, Harvard Medical—but a closer look at the project descriptions reveals a trial of diabetes drug Metformin’s efficacy on treating early-stage Alzheimer’s, an exploration of whether or not a specific protein causes the disease, and a test of glutamine’s tissue-protection capacities and how they might be used to treat Alzheimer’s. So young, upstart, outside-the-box scientists take heart: these newcomers caught BrightFocus’s attention, and you can, too.