President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.
A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.”
The effort will require the development of new tools not yet available to neuroscientists and, eventually, perhaps lead to progress in treating conditions like Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It will involve both government agencies and private institutions.
The initiative, which scientists involved in promoting the idea have been calling the Brain Activity Map project, will officially be known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN for short; it has been designated a grand challenge of the 21st century by the Obama administration.
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Three government agencies will be involved: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.
A working group at the NIH, described by the officials as a “dream team,” and led by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, will be charged with coming up with a plan, a time frame, specific goals and cost estimates for future budgets.
Brain researchers can now insert wires in the brains of animals, and sometimes human beings, to record the electrical activity of brain cells called neurons, as they communicate with each other. But, Newsome said, they can record at most hundreds at a time.
New technology and new theoretical approaches would need to be developed to record thousands or hundreds of thousands of neurons at once, Newsome said.