Obama’s BAM Project Becomes BRAIN Initiative

in News
April 6th, 2013


Obama-Quote-BRAIN-Initiative-EyeWireAt his State of the Union address nearly two months ago, President Obama announced plans for the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project (see The Nerve blog Part 1 and Part 2), a billion-dollar ten-year research initiative to gain a better understanding of the brain and to provide deeper insights into diseases like Alzheimer Disease, Parkinson Disease, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

On Tuesday, April 2nd, the President announced that he plans to include the BAM project – now termed the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative – in his 2014 budget proposal. The director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, notes that one of the major goals of the project is to simultaneously sample from many neurons in real-time. Although existing technology can measure the activities of single neurons and of brain regions, it cannot measure those of circuits. Because existing technology has not yet advanced to a level that allows such complex analysis, the BRAIN initiative will be initially funded $100 million for the year of 2014 to develop and advance neuroscience technologies. Yearly negotiations will take place to determine future funding.

Over the next several months, 14 leading neuroscientists from Stanford, CIT, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, and Brandeis will serve on the advisory board (also called the “dream team” or the “brain trust”) to refine the project’s immediate and long-term goals. They will need to decide which research areas are of high priority, which projects require more funding, and which technologies need to be developed and employed. Additionally, President Obama has required a study to explore the ethical, societal, and legal problems associated with the project’s advances in neuroscience.


Dr. Francis Collins and President Obama on Tuesday, April 4th at the White House

Although $100 million may not be sufficient to transform neuroscience, it may “help get this project off the ground,” as President Obama says, and forge a new path for advancing neuroscience. In fact, Francis Collins notes that the Human Genome project was only funded $28 million for its first year. Further, private organizations including the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Kavli Foundation have already committed $158 million.

Just as genetics research had been underway before the Human Genome Project, neuroscience research has been going on long before the announcement of the BAM project or the BRAIN initiative. Hopefully, this investment in neuroscience research will do for neuroscience the same that the Human Genome Project did for genetics: provide a plan considering the state of current research, speed up the process of improving the state of knowledge, bring more money into the economy than funded, recruit additional experts to foster an interdisciplinary effort, and capture the interest of the general public. The BRAIN Initiative should provide a goal-oriented long-term focus and allow the coordination and collaboration of neuroscientists in advancing biology, health, medicine, and society.

“Of course, none of this will be easy. If it was, we would already know everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably my life would be simpler here. It could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington.” – President Obama



-Margaret McGuinness


Eve Marder joins Obama neuroscience ‘brain trust’ – BrandeisNOW

Obama outlines private-public project to study the brain – Los Angeles Times

Neuroscience: Making connections – Nature

Obama to Unveil Initiative to Map the Human Brain – New York Times

BRAIN Initiative – NIH

A Brief History of the Human Genome Project – NIH NHGRI

Researchers Question Obama’s Motives for Brain Initiative – NPR: Morning Edition

President Obama Calls For A ‘BRAIN Initiative’ – NPR: Talk of the Nation

BRAIN Initiative Challenges Researchers to Unlock Mysteries of Human Mind – The White House Blog

Fact Sheet: BRAIN Initiative – The White House: Statements and Releases

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