Request for Applications

Neurodegeneration Challenge Network

Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards and Collaborative Science Awards

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative invites applications to join the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network, an interdisciplinary collaborative initiative to increase understanding of the fundamental biology of neurodegenerative disorders. Applications are being accepted for two funding mechanisms:

    1. CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards: investigator awards for early career academic investigators, especially those who are new to the field of neurodegeneration.  This RFA is now closed.
    2. CZI Collaborative Science Awards: awards for small group interdisciplinary collaborations that include a physician with active clinical engagement.  This RFA is now closed.

For more information, please review the FAQ page.


The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network has three goals: (1) to make fundamental advances toward understanding neurodegeneration; (2) to bring new ideas and talent to the field of neurodegeneration; and (3) to encourage a new type of interdisciplinary collaborative research involving scientists, clinicians and engineers.

We invite applications to join the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network through two RFA mechanisms:

  • CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awardsfive-year investigator grants for early career academic investigators, with an emphasis on those who are new to the field of neurodegeneration. We seek to empower investigators to pursue bold ideas and to take risks within a supportive and collaborative environment. Awardees will benefit from mentorship support, as well as professional development, training and network opportunities, and practical career guidance to help them navigate this early stage of their careers. It is with great pleasure that we name this Award in memory of Dr. Ben Barres. Through his research career and his life and humanity, Ben embodied both the spirit and the scientific aims of this Award and the Challenge Network approach. More about Ben Barres.  This RFA is now closed. 
  • CZI Collaborative Science Awards: three-year grants for small group interdisciplinary collaborations. At least one member of the collaboration should be a physician with active clinical engagement in an area relevant to the proposal. These grants are aimed to support innovative, bold, high risk/high impact projects at the interface of basic and disease biology. The scope of these collaborations should focus on foundational science (as opposed to translation and clinical application), aligned with clinical context.  This RFA is now closed.

Goals of the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network

While there has been significant investment in neurodegenerative disease research, our understanding of the underlying cellular mechanisms and basic biology of most of these disorders is limited. Even for historically well-studied diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, there remain significant gaps in our knowledge about the underlying pathological processes, and clinical efforts have focused on a relatively narrow set of ideas. In recent years, new advances, especially in genetics and genomics, have expanded the view of contributing mechanisms, implicating the immune system, glia, vascular systems, and metabolism in many of these diseases. There is also greater appreciation that these diseases may share common genes, pathways and cellular mechanisms, suggesting value in more disease cross-cutting approaches to understanding neurodegenerative disorders broadly. These recent advances present opportunities to approach the challenge of understanding neurodegenerative disorders in a different way.

The goal of the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network is to bring together outstanding, innovative, forward-thinking scientists from different disciplines, into a collaborative network to work together on questions related to the basic cell biological mechanisms of neurodegeneration in the context of human disease biology.

To encourage new ideas, we strongly encourage applications from researchers who are working in relevant fields outside of neurodegeneration and neuroscience  (such as cell biology, immunology, metabolism, physiology, and computational biology). Previous work in neurodegeneration is not a prerequisite, as long as the proposal is able to make a strong case for potential relevance to neurodegeneration.

Scientific Scope

This is explicitly not a translational or clinical development RFA and rather is aimed at foundational and mechanistic studies. Nonetheless, successful projects should be grounded in human biology and disease pathology, and the goal is that these efforts will ultimately provide new avenues and rigorous foundations for other translational and clinical development work.

We encourage applications both from investigators who are tackling underexplored topics, as well as those addressing more well-developed mechanisms where there remain significant gaps in understanding.

Examples of potential areas within the scope of the Neurodegeneration Challenge Network include, but are not limited to:

  • Understanding common disease mechanisms that cut across disease and that may point to common avenues for intervention.
  • Probing disease mechanisms in human cells, tissues, and models; foundational studies that rigorously bridge between model systems approaches and human biology and disease pathology.
  • Defining the contribution of non-neuronal influences on neurodegeneration, including potential influences of the innate and adaptive immune systems, vasculature, and the gut and microbiome.
  • Developing improved animal models that more closely mimic human disease progression and physiology.
  • Explaining the relative susceptibility of different cell populations in different neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Testing causal hypotheses for how core cellular mechanisms such as metabolic regulation, proteostasis, RNA processing, and protein trafficking contribute to neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Building a foundational understanding of disease progression, risk, and the influence of aging over the lifespan, including mechanistic approaches as well as longitudinal descriptive studies.

Building Tools to Support the Neurodegeneration Research Community

As part of the collective work of the Challenge Network, CZI will ask investigators to contribute to the development, validation and dissemination of robust, reliable, and scalable experimental and analytical tools for the broader neurodegeneration community. CZI will provide infrastructure support for such community tool development and dissemination efforts.

Examples of the types of tools and resources that the Challenge Network might develop and disseminate include but are not limited to:

  • Well-validated and reliable platforms for human cell biology, which might be based on tissue samples, iPSCs, organoids, or other advanced tissue biology systems.
  • Scalable tools for cellular analysis, including genomic, proteomic, and imaging methods, optimized for human cells and relevance to neurodegeneration (for instance, targeted probes and label-free methods for cellular imaging of neurons and non-neuronal cells; robust affinity reagents for proteomics; genome editing and single cell genomic approaches).
  • Well-validated, robust, shared animal models that more accurately model human disease biology.
  • Unique human tissue resources and associated protocols for their handling and best use.
  • Rigorous benchmark datasets for the field, for instance, well-validated longitudinal studies of disease progression that will inform more mechanistic approaches.
  • Development and application of computational and machine learning approaches and tools to address neurodegeneration biology, which might include genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, systems biology, imaging, and/or integration of data across experimental models and scales.

Collaboration and Open Science

The CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network is an approach to address the scientific challenges of neurodegenerative diseases and an experiment in collaborative science. As part of the selection process, we will be looking for investigators and groups who will enthusiastically contribute to and benefit from a highly collaborative, dynamic and interdisciplinary approach.

  • Investigators in the Challenge Network will have the opportunity to learn from, collaborate with, and interact with the community of investigators and groups within the Network, as well as with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative scientists and software engineers.
  • Investigators and members of their labs will participate in regular investigator meetings, meetings for students, postdocs and staff, as well as mentorship and training opportunities.
  • CZI’s mission is at the interface of technology and science. Working in collaboration with, and guided by, Challenge Network investigators, we aim to develop technology-based tools and approaches to support and accelerate the broader field of neurodegeneration.
  • Clinical partners in these collaborative projects will play important roles as mentors to help the collective work of the Challenge Network stay closely aligned to the clinical contexts of these disorders and to the needs of patients.
  • CZI supports open science values and principles. To accelerate scientific discovery and collaboration and rapid dissemination, CZI supports a consent, sharing, and publication policy for open and rapid dissemination of research results and a policy for software development that maximizes accessibility, reuse, and shared development.

RFA Application and Review Process

Details of the Application and Review process are provided in the RFA Instructions for each award (links below). Please read instructions for each RFA carefully, as there are different eligibility requirements, application procedures, and deadlines for the two RFAs. Candidates may only apply to one RFA.

View CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards

View CZI Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Awards Application Instructions 

View CZI Collaborative Science Awards

View CZI Collaborative Science Awards Application Instructions

Frequently Asked Questions

For more information, please review the FAQ page.

RFA Contact

For administrative and programmatic inquiries, technical assistance, or other questions pertaining to this RFA, please contact

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