Russell Berrie Foundation Research Initiative on the Neurobiology of Obesity

The Russell Berrie Foundation supports a major initiative at Columbia on the neurobiology of body weight regulation. This initiative is co-directed by Drs. Rudy Leibel and Charles Zuker, and is now beginning its 3rd year.

Our fundamental goal and mission is to promote transformative research in the neuroscience of ingestive behavior and body weight regulation by leveraging the great strengths of programs in neuroscience, energy metabolism and diabetes at Columbia.

Particular emphases of this program are to: (1) find the mechanisms integrating so-called “homeostatic” feeding -with ingestive behaviors driven by hedonic and other motivations in the absence of hunger; (2) studies of the gut-brain axis in the control of internal and feeding states, (3) neural circuits misregulated in obesity, and (4) proposals linking brain, mind, behavior and obesity.

The Initiative aims to incentivize and support early and mid-career faculty members at Columbia University to develop new research programs at the interface of neurobiology and metabolism/obesity (i.e. research projects in obesity and metabolism for our neuroscientists, and neural circuits and brain physiology for our obesity/diabetes/metabolism investigators). Interdisciplinary collaborations are encouraged.

Emphasis is on early and mid-career faculty members, however, all levels of faculty are eligible to apply, including all levels of research scientists.

We expect this new initiative - by placing the focus on bringing outstanding scientists into a new field - to create an ideal intellectual/research environment to promote the introduction of fresh ideas and perspectives into the field, and to afford an exceptional opportunity to help transform our understanding of obesity and the circuits linking mind, brain and ingestive behaviors. The program is also intended to provide optimal venues for the training of students and postdoctoral fellows in the biology of obesity, metabolism and brain science. We anticipate that this Berrie initiative will eventually become self-supporting and an integral part of the research enterprise at Columbia.

Full scale and pilot projects will be funded in each year of the program. These grants will be awarded on an annual basis, renewable for a total of up to 3 years depending on progress and ongoing programmatic relevance. We intend to fund primarily Columbia University scientists, but also encourage collaborations with investigators outside of Columbia. Decisions regarding investigator/project selection will be made by the co-Directors in consultation with the Board of Advisors. The Board will also provide on-going program evaluation. We currently have 4 full scale and 7 pilot project in their first or second years of funding.

The basic criteria for selection include: (1) investigator track record and qualifications, (2) novelty and scientific importance of the project; with particular emphasis on proposals representing new areas of research for the applicants, at the interface of obesity and neuroscience; (3) potential scientific outcomes; (4) likely impact of the proposed program in the subsequent careers - in obesity-related research - of the investigator and his/her students and fellows; and (5) the likelihood that, if successful, the project will lead to fundamental discoveries suitable for independent funding.

Application Process: Interested faculty should submit a 1-2 page Letter-of-Intent (LOI) project summary plus NIH-style biographies for all relevant personnel. Collaborative applications are encouraged. Research proposals can be for up to 3 years, with a maximum for yr1: $150K, yr2: $200K, yr3: $250K, renewable annually contingent on progress and programmatic relevance. One-year pilot projects ($50-100k) will also be considered. These pilots may subsequently be renewed or expanded to larger scale projects.

Investigators selected based on the LOI will be invited to prepare more detailed applications (5 pages) describing their proposed research and use of funds; final decisions will be made based on individual presentations/interviews of finalists with the Program Directors and members of the Board of Advisors. Funded proposals will deliberately involve high-risk projects, novel concepts, and interdisciplinary research at the interface of obesity/metabolism/internal state and neuroscience. Guided by the nature of the proposal, the amounts and duration of grants may be adjusted. Funds may be used for research supplies, animal expenditures, small equipment items, postdoctoral or graduate student salaries.

LOI DEADLINE: Letters of Intent including relevant NIH-style biographies should be sent as a single PDF to Ms. Spina (