The Obama administration is investing aggressively in a new project to do for neuroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.
The White House said Sept. 30 that the National Institutes of Health is giving $46 million to the BRAIN Initiative, bringing the total funding from federal agencies to $110 million this year. Universities, companies and other groups have committed more than $270 million, the White House said.
"Some of the projects here have the ability to transform how we study the brain, and new technologies and industries will likely be spawned."
Collins said the NIH received 600 BRAIN-related grant applications this year and will use the $46 million to fund 58 of them. In one case, UC Berkeley will receive $7.2 million to improve brain imaging tools.
Copyright 2014 Reuters
Pres. Obama announced the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in April 2013. The project, a massive undertaking by all accounts, "aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders."
"There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember."
The administration hopes the BRAIN initiative will advance treatments for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other forms of mental illness, and may even help in the development of artificial intelligence. The research could cost billions, so government support is crucial in carrying it out.
"Think of people who do ethics as the fellow in the parade who follows behind the elephant and cleans up. We'd like to at least walk alongside the elephant."
Scientists met in August 2013 to discuss the ethical implications of better understanding how the human brain works. A major takeaway was that scientists and ethicists do not communicate enough, particularly at the planning and starting phases of research.
"We don't understand the fly brain yet. How will this come to anything?"
Some have criticized the project's ambition and potential cost, saying the initiative will pull from other, more important research.
As a point of comparison, the Human Genome Project cost $3.8 billion. It started in 1990 and completed its goal of mapping the human genome ahead of schedule, in April 2003. The project returned $800 billion into the economy by 2010, according to a government study.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing brain implants that may help restore "task-based motor skills" -- such as tying a shoe -- to people who have suffered brain damage, Bloomberg reports. The technology could treat some of the 280,000 troops who have sustained brain injuries since 2000.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a brain implant aimed at restoring memory in wounded soldiers and sufferers of conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease, officials announced in late April. The four-year project is part of Obama's BRAIN initiative.