"Imagine if no family had to feel helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of Parkinson’s or struggle in the grip of epilepsy. Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury or PTSD for our veterans who are coming home…,” said President Barack Obama last week as he laid a grand, ambitious new government initiative to map the brain.
Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to support the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative which allows us to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Three government agencies will be involved: the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.
“It's an audacious, bold idea,” said Francis . "To understand how the human brain works is about the most audacious scientific project you can imagine," he said. "It's the most complicated structure in the known universe."
In many ways, this initiative is similar to the Human Genome Project which Collins led and completed in 2003, in its vision and ambition. But, unlike the Human Genome Project, the BRAIN initiative has not laid out its primary scientific goals. The lack of detail is worrying BRAIN skeptics and advocates alike. Some scientists were quick to question the motives behind this initiative, noting that a lot of great research on the brain is already underway.”
At a Q&A segment following the President’s announcement, Collins said that these details would be hammered out by a “dream team” of 15 scientists who will hold their first meeting at the end of the month. This team is led by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, will be charged with coming up with a plan, a time frame, specific goals and cost estimates for future budgets.
Additionally, Obama addressed how this initiative can drive growth and create new job opportunities. As the “rest of the world” is racing ahead in the quest for innovation, he expressed concern that we will lose a new generation of scientists because of uncertainty in research funding. We can’t afford to miss these opportunities, he said.
The President called on companies, research universities, foundations, and philanthropists to get involved.
What we took from sitting in the room with the leaders and innovators in science and research as the president spoke about the promise and potential of this new initiative, was a broader message about the power and value of investing in science, and the important role the federal government plays in ensuring scientific breakthroughs can improve health. We took such enthusiasm and energy as our cue to be more determined than ever to advance medical progress.
- As part of this planning process, input will be sought broadly from the scientific community, patient advocates, and the general public.
- The working group will be asked to produce an interim report by fall 2013 that will contain specific recommendations on high priority investments for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.
- The final report will be delivered to the NIH Director in June 2014.
- Remarks by the President on the BRAIN Initiative and American Innovation, April 2, 2013
- Video of Remarks by NIH Director Collins and the President, April 2, 2013
- Fact Sheet: BRAIN Initiative(Whitehouse.gov), April 2, 2013
- Video of Open for Questions with NIH Director Francis Collins(Whitehouse.gov), April 2, 2013
- WhiteHouse.Gov Blog: BRAIN Initiative Challenges Researchers to Unlock Mysteries of Human Mind, April 2, 2013