Obama reveals US$100m research initiative to understand the human brain

2 Apr 2013

Colour-coded view of individual nerve cells in the hippocampus area of the human brain, created at the Center for Brain Science, Harvard University

US President Barack Obama has today revealed details of an ambitious research initiative called BRAIN that will result in an initial US$100m being pumped into research programmes in the US from 2014 in order to unlock new ways of understanding how the human brain works.

The ultimate goal of the BRAIN project – which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies – will be to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders ranging from Alzheimer’s to epilepsy, autism, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.

The goal will be to invest in research to speed up the development and application of new technologies so as to allow researchers to create pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.

Describing the BRAIN initiative as one of the administration’s “grand challenges”, Obama likened it to an ambitious goal that requires advancements in science and technology.

He also called on companies, research universities, foundations, and philanthropists to join with him in identifying and pursuing more ‘grand challenges’ of the 21st century.

The BRAIN drive will launch with around US$100m in funding as part of Obama’s 2014 fiscal-year budget.

Three US government agencies will be involved: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation.

The NIH will be setting up a high-level working group to help shape the research projects involved in BRAIN.

According to the administration, foundations and private research institutes will also be investing in neuroscience research projects.

For instance, the Allen Institute for Brain Science is set to spend a minimum of US$60m annually to support neuroscience research projects. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will also dedicate research funding for projects to support BRAIN.

According to the administration, the new research initiative will follow the Human Genome Project, in which the US federal government invested US$3.8bn in between 1988 and 2003. The White House said the Human Genome Project has since delivered an economic output of US$796bn, equating to US$141 for every US$1 invested.

The infographic from the White House depicts more about the BRAIN initiative:

BRAIn research initiative

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic