Advancing the national brain research agenda

A bold new proposed initiative announced today by President Obama will revolutionize our understanding of the human brain, says Dr. John Greden, the executive director of the University of Michigan Depression Center.

Launched with approximately $100 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury. If funded, the initiative would do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for human DNA.

“The brain is indisputably the most complex and least understood organ in the human body. In spite of neuroscience advances in studying specific and distinct brain diseases, the underlying causes of neurological and psychiatric disorders remain a mystery,” says Greden.

“The BRAIN initiative, which focuses on a truly multidisciplinary approach to treating, curing and preventing brain disorders, will coalesce existing knowledge and forge a new era that goes beyond disease-specific research. It is also timed to correspond to an increased emphasis across research disciplines on personalized, predictive and preventive medicine,” Greden says. “In a time when research funding is becoming more constrained, the BRAIN Initiative holds out promise for an exceptional future return on investment.”

The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.  These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.

This initiative is one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology.  In his remarks today, the President called on companies, research universities, foundations, and philanthropists to join with him in identifying and pursuing the Grand Challenges of the 21st century.

The BRAIN Initiative includes:

  • Key investments to jumpstart the effort: The National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation will support approximately $100 million in research beginning in FY 2014.
  • Strong academic leadership: The National Institutes of Health will establish a high-level working group co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University) to define detailed scientific goals for the NIH’s investment, and to develop a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates.
  • Public-private partnerships: Federal research agencies will partner with companies, foundations, and private research institutions that are also investing in relevant neuroscience research, such as the Allen Institute, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
  • Maintaining our highest ethical standards:  Pioneering research often has the potential to raise new ethical challenges. To ensure this new effort proceeds in ways that continue to adhere to our highest standards of research protections, the President will direct his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to explore the ethical, legal, and societal implications raised by this research initiative and other recent advances in neuroscience.

Read the White House’s Fact Sheet on the BRAIN Initiative.