In a first for the SfN conference, the director of the NIH — who ultimately holds the purse strings for most of the people here — made an appearance and addressed the crowd. Francis Collins began his talk with a facetious reference to some of the criticism he’s fielded since his appointment just months ago.
“Those of you who have been reading the blogs might expect me to begin with a benediction, I assure you I have no intention of doing that,” he said. "I won’t ask you to pray for anything, except perhaps the FY2011 budget.”
Collins highlighted the increases to NIH funding in the stimulus bill, the hope for the new Challenge Grants and progress with establishing NIH guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research. He also stressed the importance of the NIH blueprint for neuroscience research, which includes the human connectome project.
He then continued preaching to the choir, listing the themes NIH thinks are important for neuroscience, such as translating basic discoveries to treatments, incorporating genomics, being interdisciplinary, etc. I doubt any of the neuroscientists here got any new ideas from his presentation, but Collins’ presence was symbolically important. Knowing that the government thinks this work is a priority is a welcome change for these folks.