WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is proposing a new research investment to map the human brain in hopes of eventually finding treatments for traumatic injuries and disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.
The president planned to propose an initial $100 million investment next year during remarks Tuesday morning. The White House said in a statement that the goal of the project — called the BRAIN Initiative for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — is “to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind” and create jobs.
Obama mentioned the idea in his State of the Union address, comparing the scientific and economic potential to the Human Genome Project that was launched as an international effort in 1990 to better understand the genetic impact on health and disease.
“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Every dollar,” Obama said in the address to Congress in February. “Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.
“Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation,” Obama said. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”
The BRAIN Initiative will require the development of new technology that can record the electrical activity of individual cells and complex neural circuits in the brain “at the speed of thought,” the White House said.
Obama wants the $100 million to support research at the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. He also wants private companies, universities and philanthropists to partner with the federal agencies in support of the research. And he wants a study of the ethical, legal and societal implications of the research.
The goals of the work are unclear at this point. A working group at NIH, co-chaired by Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann of The Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, would work on defining the goals and developing a multi-year plan to achieve them that included cost estimates.
RYOT NOTE: In recent years scientists have taken to calling the brain “the last frontier” of science. It is true we still have much to understand about the way that the brain works, and though Obama mentions Alzheimer’s as one disease he hopes to understand, there are many many others about which we could also learn. Multiple sclerosis, for example, is an autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, and a better understanding of this disease might some day result in a cure. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society works to try to stamp out MS in our world, and you can help support this cause by donating today, or by sharing this story.