Wednesday, April 3, 2013

White House Unveils BRAIN Initiative to Map Mind's Cells and Pathways

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he wants to launch a $100 million project that will map the human brain. The project, labeled the "Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies," or more literally, the BRAIN Initiative, will seek to figure out "how individual cells and complex neural circuits operate in time and space," according to the official explanation of the project's goals published by the National Institutes of Health.

Obama, reportedly inspired by the success of the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003, had made mention of the need for new research initiatives in his State of the Union address back in February. The funding for the BRAIN Initiative has been rolled into the president's budget for fiscal 2014, according to a Fox News/Reuters/AP report.

Here is some of the key information that emerged on Tuesday regarding the new push to launch the BRAIN Initiative, and what it is expected to accomplish.

* Obama told the media gathered in the White House's East Room for his announcement on Tuesday that the BRAIN Initiative would create jobs as well as eventually help improve billions of people's lives around the globe.

* Obama also said that the BRAIN Initiative is ultimately going to allow us insight into the causes of diseases like Alzheimer's, autism, epilepsy, and Parkinson's, much like the Human Genome Project has begun to allow us to pinpoint certain genes that are responsible for some cancers and other diseases.

* In an official White House statement, the president also was quoted as saying that the BRAIN Initiative will be counted as one of his administration's "Grand Challenges."

* The BRAIN Initiative will be coordinated and supported by the National Institutes of Health, as well as the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Corporations, as well as universities and private research facilities, are ultimately expected to contribute to the BRAIN Initiative's goals as well.

* According to the statement from the White House on Tuesday, certain research facilities and foundations have already stepped forward to pledge monetary assistance. These include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Kavli Foundation, among others.

* During his announcement to the press, Obama said that the project would drive economic growth in the same way that the Human Genome Project has done. He stated that the project had paid $140 for every dollar that had been invested in it, and that it has opened the door to all kinds of innovations as well as greatly broadened our understanding of our DNA.

* Obama said on Tuesday that projects like the BRAIN Initiative are vital to the continued growth and ingenuity of the United States, and that "Ideas are what power our economy. It's what sets us apart. It's what America has been all about," as quoted by NBC News.

* He went on to describe the United States as "a nation of dreamers and risk-takers," as also quoted by NBC News.

* Congress will ultimately have to approve Obama's fiscal 2014 budget before the BRAIN Initiative can begin in earnest.

Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.


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