Obama unveils brain mapping project to unlock mysteries

By: David Jackson,

President Obama unveiled a decades-long project Tuesday designed to map the inner workings of the brain, seeking answers to such challenges as epilepsy, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

“There’s this enormous mystery, awaiting to be unlocked,” Obama said during remarks at the White House.

The initial cost: $100 million in Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget to be proposed next week; Congress must approve the sum.

The “BRAIN Initiative” — the acronym stands for “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies” — will look into ways people think, learn and remember, Obama said.

Its goal is developing new technologies that can record the activities of individual cells and neurons within the brain.

Obama cast the brain project as an example of how scientific research can generate economic growth, and he took the time to criticize the sequester — an ongoing series of $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that he said are damaging all sorts of research efforts.

“Ideas are what power our economy,” he said.

The brain project is “a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and advance the president’s vision for creating jobs and building a thriving middle class by investing in research and development,” said a White House statement.

Obama made the brain project a part of his State of the Union Address in February.

“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar,” Obama said on Feb. 12. “Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.”

Scientists will build on the sequencing of the human genome and other previous discoveries in determining how to address brain disorders.

“Significant breakthroughs in how we treat neurological and psychiatric disease will require a new generation of tools to enable researchers to record signals from brain cells in much greater numbers and at even faster speeds,” the White House statement said.

It added: “This cannot currently be achieved, but great promise for developing such technologies lies at the intersections of nanoscience, imaging, engineering, informatics, and other rapidly emerging fields of science and engineering.”

Three government agencies are leading the project: The National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. The White House said the agencies will work with the “private sector partners” of The Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


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