The Staglin Family and One Mind, their nonprofit research collaboration, will host the 24th Music Festival for Brain Health on Saturday, Sept. 15. The musical headliner is Oscar-, Golden Globe- and two-time Grammy-winning singer and actress Jennifer Hudson.
For a quarter of a century, the Staglins, via One Mind, have championed research on brain health and raised nearly a third of a billion dollars in support of innovative scientists in the field. Each year a research symposium precedes extensive wine-tasting, a concert and a VIP dinner. The keynoter for this year’s symposium is Thomas R. Insel, M.D., a co-founder and the president of Mindstrong Health and the former director (2002-2015) of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
On the phone last week, Insel talked about aspects of NIMH funding and the unique role that One Mind plays, particularly for young researchers with bold ideas. “At NIMH, there’s an incredible opportunity to support science relative to brain health,” he said. “We have about $1.5 billion each year of taxpayer money to do that. One would think that that’s an awful lot of money, which would make sure that all of the meritorious science would get supported, but in reality the demand is actually much greater than the supply.
“The people who are likely to get funded by NIMH are people who have been getting funded for a long time and know how the system works. They’re very good at writing grants. They’re well-known, so there’s name recognition that works in their favor, and they have a long track record of accomplishments they can point to.”
Insel called it a “pretty good system,” but one that is difficult for young scientists just getting started. “It doesn’t work well for people at an early stage of their career,” he said; “those who haven’t got that kind of track record and aren’t known yet, even though they may have a spectacular idea. They may have more potential than somebody who’s been doing this for 20 or 30 years.
“It also doesn’t work so well for people who have a truly innovative idea, even if they’ve been in the system for a while. It just doesn’t work in the peer review process. Not everybody on the (grant selection) committee would say this is a good idea, which is often the nature of innovation. Some people will think it’s the best thing ever, and other people will think it’s a really dumb thing to do. We see that over and over again.”
Insel sees One Mind as having an essential role in supporting promising scientists who may struggle to get NIMH support. “The great thing about the Staglins and other philanthropies that have developed is that they can begin to fill that gap,” he said. “They can begin to help people at an early stage (One Mind calls them their ‘rising stars’), or people with something more innovative, to get the first funding that they need. It won’t be as much as an NIMH grant, but it will be enough for them to do the work. And it gives them the pilot data, which they can then leverage into an NIMH grant.”
“The system, for better or for worse, has evolved in such a way that efforts like One Mind have now become essential,” Insel said. “They’re really a critical part of the system for innovation and funding for research for that first phase, that phase of collecting pilot data on a really novel and potentially important concept. It’s not for the kinds of things that NIMH can and will fund. It really is for more cutting-edge, innovative, early-stage ideas.”
The “rising stars” presenting at this year’s symposium are Susanne Ahmari, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, Paul Jenkins, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan and Erin Dunn Sc.D., MPH, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.