President Barack Obama pledges $100m to unlock secrets of the brain
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Tuesday 02 April 2013
A new era in the understanding of the human brain - the most complex structure in the known universe - began today when President Obama announced a $100m (£67m) research initiative to start mapping the complex neural circuitry of the mind.
The aim is to understand what goes wrong in a range of debilitating neurological conditions, from childhood autism to Alzheimer's disease, and provide new treatments and possibly cures for brain disorders that have become the biggest medical burden in the developed world.
Although the initial funding for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) is relatively small compared to other big research initiatives, President Obama said that it would kick start a field of endeavour that has been likened to the $3.6bn human genome project to map the complete DNA sequence of man.
“As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away, study particles smaller than an atom but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears,” President Obama said at a White House news conference.
In his state of the union address in February, Obama hinted that brain research would be boosted to stimulate the economy as well as providing deeper insights into one of the great mysteries of medical science - understanding how the brain works and why it can go wrong.
“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy - every dollar. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's….Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race,” President Obama said.
The BRAIN initiative is directed at mapping the neural circuits of the brain with novel technologies such as tiny nanosensors and wireless fibre-optic tools, in conjunction with more traditional methods such as magnetic resonance imaging - the hospital scanners that have already revolutionised the understanding of some brain function.
“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,” said Terry Sejnowski, an eminent neuroscientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California and expert in computational modelling of the complex interactions between brain cells.
“Many of the most devastating human brain disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, only seem to emerge when large-scale assemblies of neurons are involved,” Dr Sejnowski said.
“Other terrible conditions such as blindness and paralysis result from disruptions in circuit connections. The more precise our information about specific circuits, the more we will understand what went wrong, where it went wrong and how to target therapies,” he said.
The BRAIN initiative will be orchestrated by America's federal research institutes in cooperation with the private sector. It is intended to grow into what will become the largest collaborative research effort into brain disorders.
It is not the only such initiative, however. Earlier this year, the European Commission announced the Human Brain Project, one of two flagship science programmes involving more than 80 research institutions from across Europe with a combined budget of €1.19bn over 10 years.
Neither is Obama the first US President to take an interest in brain science. In 1990 President George H W Bush announced that the 1990s would be the “decade of the brain” as part of an initiative to focus attention on the neurological sciences.
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
Ariana Grande nude photos leak: 'These are completely fake' say singer's representatives
A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Israel to appropriate 400 hectares in West Bank for ‘state use’
Kate Upton nude pictures leak: Model's representatives 'looking into' authenticity of naked images
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain
£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...
£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...
£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...