President Barack Obama pledges $100m to unlock secrets of the brain

 

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Call Handler

£14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a Sales Ca...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£14560 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique pers...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor