Obama Provides Details on Brain Mapping Initiative

Megan Brooks

April 02, 2013

President Barack Obama today unveiled new details of the "BRAIN" Initiative, a large-scale effort to map brain activity, and announced an initial government investment of $100 million in FY 2014.

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative promises to "revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury," the White House said in a statement posted on its Web site today.

In February 2013, the Obama Administration said it was in the planning stages of the BRAIN Initiative, as previously reported by Medscape Medical News.

In his remarks this morning, President Obama said the BRAIN Initiative is one of the administration's "Grand Challenges" – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology to accomplish.

$100 Million to Jump-Start the Initiative

The BRAIN Initiative will "accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.  These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior," the White House says.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, said, "This initiative is bold, it is audacious and it is going to take quite a few years. We have an amazing dream team putting together the detail and out of this is going to come the foundation of understanding the brain that we have dreamed of all through human history and now it will happen."

The BRAIN Initiative will launch with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the president's fiscal year 2014 budget.

The NIH will establish a high-level working group to define detailed scientific goals for the NIH's investment and to develop a multiyear scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates, the White House said. The group will be co-chaired by 2 neurobiologists: Cornelia "Cori" Bargmann, PhD, from The Rockefeller University in New York, and William Newsome, PhD, from Stanford University in California.

Foundations and private research institutions are also investing in the neuroscience that will advance the BRAIN Initiative.  The Allen Institute for Brain Science will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to this initiative, the White House said, and The Kavli Foundation plans to support BRAIN Initiative–related activities with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next 10 years. 

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will spend at least $30 million annually to support projects related to the Initiative, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will dedicate over $28 million to the project.

Thumbs Up From Neuroscience Community

"We are very excited by the administration's commitment of much needed support for research into the brain diseases that devastate the lives of so many people," said American Academy of Neurology (AAN) President Timothy A. Pedley, MD. "Our American Brain Foundation has emphasized funding the most promising research by the best and brightest young neurologists who are just starting their academic careers. 

Since 1993, the Foundation has provided more than $18 million dollars in research grants and supported more than 110 investigators, Dr. Pedley said. "We welcome the president's ambitious initiative and the critical backing it provides to the neuroscience community.  We look forward to learning more about this project, and we are committed to assisting the administration in any way we can."

AAN CEO and Executive Director Catherine M. Rydell, CAE, attended the White House announcement along with other leading participants in the field of brain research as the administration outlined the goals of its plan.

Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association and a member of the National Alzheimer's Plan Advisory Committee, was among those who attended today's announcement at the White House. He said the Alzheimer's Association "applauds the President for underscoring the critical need for research to better understand the mysteries of the brain."

"The federal government has realized incredible success when it invests in tackling challenges of this magnitude, and Alzheimer's will be no different. We are on the doorstep to changing the trajectory of this disease and must pursue every avenue while fully funding the implementation of the National Alzheimer's Plan," said Johns.

Society for Neuroscience President Larry Swanson, PhD, who also attended the White House announcement, said, "The Society for Neuroscience is encouraged and appreciative that the Obama Administration recognizes brain science as one of the great scientific challenges of our time."

"Today's announcement and first investment will enable the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to develop initial tools and conduct further planning that will help accelerate fundamental discoveries and improve the health and quality of life for more than 1 billion people worldwide estimated to be suffering from the more than 1000 brain diseases and disorders," Dr. Swanson said.

"The time is right for this focus," he added, "thanks to decades of global investment and path breaking research, the neuroscience field is poised to make revolutionary advances. The coming years will be a period of breakthrough discovery in brain science."

Terrence Sejnowski, PhD, head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, San Diego, California, who also attended the White House event, said, "This initiative is a boost for the brain like the Human Genome Project was for the genes. This is the start of the million neuron march."

The Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research have also endorsed the BRAIN Initiative.

In a statement, Todd Sherer, PhD, CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation, said the foundation "supports President Obama and Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in this ambitious effort to create a future where our only questions about the human brain are how to fully realize its incredible potential."