Obama calls BRAIN initiative “the next great American project”

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

brain glow
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. When an area of the brain is being used, blood flow to the region increases.

President Barack Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) mission is apparently going to completely change our understanding of the human brain. According to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, it’s as historic as the Apollo program (which put a man on the Moon for the first time) and the human genome project (which mapped human DNA).

BRAIN is a coordinated effort between multiple government organizations, like the National Science Foundation (NSF), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and several private funding groups. Obama has called it “the next great American project” and Insel believes, “It’s beginning to feel like a global movement.”

The massive effort will accelerate technologies that can provide an in-depth look into the way our brain is structured and how it functions. Government and private organizations have put together a total of $232 million that will allow scientists to do things like record brain signals from many neurons (cells that carry nerve impulses in our brains) and activate neurons with light pulses. Europe has also started its own mega brain study, with the $1.3 billion Human Brain Project. The 10-year effort will build a computer model of the human brain.

DARPA’s deputy director of the Defense Sciences Office, Geoffrey Ling, expressed, “All of us want to cure Alzheimer’s disease, all of us want to cure multiple sclerosis, all of us want to cure traumatic brain injury,” while adding, “We have not yet. The timing is right to take it to the next level.”

Featured image courtesy of MGH-UCLA Human Connectome Project. Image of fMRI brain scans courtesy of NIH and D.M. Barch for the WU-Minn HCP Consortium.