By Alan Lyndon
In his State of the Union Address in January, President Obama said, “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.” On Tuesday, Obama delivered on that proposal as he announced the BRAIN Initiative, a $100 million project that will help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
The goals of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative are to get a dynamic picture of the brain and better understand how we think, learn, and remember, as well as creating new jobs and industries based on findings from the project.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a partner in the initiative, says that “by accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.”
On Tuesday, the President highlighted the BRAIN Initiative as one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology to accomplish. An example of a past Grand Challenge was the sequencing of the entire human genome that, according to one recent study, has contributed to the U.S. economy more than $140 for every $1 invested by the Federal government.
As a result of the Human Genome Project, the cost of sequencing a single human genome has declined from $100 million to $7,000, opening the door to personalized medicine.
The BRAIN Initiative is launching with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
Foundations and private research institutions are also investing in the neuroscience that will advance the BRAIN Initiative. The Allen Institute for Brain Science, for example, will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to this initiative. The Kavli Foundation plans to support BRAIN Initiative-related activities with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next ten years. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will also dedicate research funding for projects that support the BRAIN Initiative.