Obama plan aims to unlock secrets of the brain

May / June 2013 | Volume 12, Issue 3

Scan of brain in black and white from the side, many small brightly colored fibers throughout
Photo by Dr. Van Wedeen, MHG/Harvard

President Obama recently proposed an initiative to encourage
researchers to unlock the mysteries of the human brain.

Much of the human brain is mysterious, clouding scientists' understanding of devastating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. To accelerate the development of innovative technologies that can help reveal the secrets of this complex organ, President Obama recently launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative.

"We can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom," Obama said. "But we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."

The project aims to illuminate how the human brain develops, thrives and succumbs to disease. Improved understanding could bring new treatments and prevention strategies for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, autism and epilepsy. WHO estimates that one in four people globally are affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

Obama said expanded brain research would also generate economic activity. "Ideas are what power our economy, it's what sets us apart," he said. "We do innovation better than anybody else - and that makes our economy stronger." He cited another major initiative supported by the U.S., the Human Genome Project, which greatly enhanced scientific understanding and generated significant returns for the U.S. economy - $140 for every $1 invested.

Obama proposed BRAIN receive $100 million for first-year funding to support research by NIH, the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. He intends the initiative to attract matching private sector investments.

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