Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Awards: Year Two

The Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund is one of those modest family foundations that really knows what it’s about. Beginning in 1981, it administered the Klingenstein Fellowship Awards in the Neurosciences, handing out thousands of dollars in support to young scientists seeking bold new ways to understand the brain. And fittingly, the recipients of these awards went on to do amazing things: Past awardees include Marc Tessier-Lavigne (1992), now president of the Rockefeller University; Richard Scheller (1985), executive vice president of research and early development at Genentech; and Karl Deisseroth (2005), who essentially discovered the field of optogenetics.

Then, in 2013, Klingenstein partnered with the much bigger Simons Foundation, enabling it to extend both the size and the scope of the award. The effort is called the Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Awards in the Neurosciences. Its recent RFP for 2015’s crop of fellows (which is now closed) offers a good peek at the award's foundational priorities, information researchers should keep in mind for next year. 

Two of the award’s highest priorities are something we’ve been seeing a lot of lately in these sorts of “up-and-comers” awards in neuroscience: First, basic, foundational science—the sort of work that, it’s hoped, could lead to some mega milestone breakthrough with the potential for a zillion little spin-off projects in some novel new direction.

The second is seeking to make improvements in how these conditions are diagnosed and managed. That second one isn’t so well represented in the 2014 batch of inaugural awardees, but there’s plenty of basic science projects getting funded.

It doesn’t get much more foundational than Dr. Benjamin R. Arenkiel’s research at the Baylor College of Medicine. Arenkiel and his colleagues are working to forge a deeper understanding of how synapses and neural circuits form, which, he hopes, will ultimately lead to new treatments for damaged or diseased neural tissues.

At Johns Hopkins, Solange Brown, MD, Ph.D., is doing much the same kind of work on cortical circuits, the seat of perception and behavior. By labeling key cortical neurons with fluorescent markers, and then conducting in vivo trials monitoring brain activity, Brown and her colleagues aim to understand what, exactly, emotions like regret and behaviors like decision-making look like in the brain. The work could have major payoffs in the realm of diagnosing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Meanwhile, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Ryan Hibbs is studying mechanisms of ion selectivity and allosteric modulation, with the goal of gaining insight into the best ways to treat neurological disorders, including addiction.

It’s a promising bunch of researchers, to be sure. We don’t know what this year’s crop has in store, but with Simons in the mix, the truth is, anything’s possible.