A few of the winning projects:

Beverly Davidson from University of Iowa will engineer RNA aptamers to act as specific drug delivery agents to carry chemical payloads into the brain, a notoriously difficult drug target.

Akira Chiba, at the University of Miami, will investigate ways to stimulate neural regeneration by shaking things up, on the local level. Since researchers have seen mechanical force foster regeneration, Chiba's group propose using nanotechnology, bioengineering and genetics to restore neural connectivity in damaged areas of the brain via a mechanical instead of molecular approach.

Each project will receive up to $800,000 over four years. The program is already accepting applications for next year's round of awards; in 2009, nine of the 27 NIH institutes will participate, including NIGMS, rather than the four that participated this year.