Obama proposes research initiative

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President Barack Obama asked Congress to invest $100 million in the 2014 fiscal year toward research to help unlock the mysteries of the human brain.

The so-called BRAIN Initiative project would map out brain functions with the hope of eventually finding cures for disorders like Alzheimer’s and Epilepsy.

The initiative is part of the president’s proposed fiscal 2014 budget, which is expected to be released Wednesday.

Congress will have to sign off on the initiative through its appropriations process.

The BRAIN Initiative, which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, was a focal point in the president’s State of the Union address where he laid out his visions for creating jobs and building a thriving middle class by making large investments in research and development, which would begin with this new initiative.

“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away; we can study particles smaller than an atom,” Obama said in his address. “But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pound of matter that sits in between our ears.”

Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institute of Health, is leading the charge for the BRAIN Initiative. He calls the human brain, “the most complicated biological structure in the known universe.”

Collins wants the initiative to build on recent neuroscience strides in hopes of helping more than 100 million people who suffer from brain dysfunctions.

Collins was a key contributor to the Human Genome Project that started in 1988. The 13-year project was coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Health to discover more about genetics.

For every dollar invested in the project, it returned a value of $141, Obama said.

The money for Obama’s BRAIN Initiative will be disbursed to three different agencies.

The National Institute for Health intends to allocate approximately $40 million to the project in 2014.

Those funds are specifically devoted to projects that support the development of new tools, training opportunities and other resources.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to invest $50 million in a set of programs with the goal of understanding the dynamic function of the brain.

DARPA aims to develop a new set of tools to capture and process dynamic neural and synaptic activities and raise interest in researching a new generation of information processing systems, which according to the White House can improve the way veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, brain injury and memory loss are diagnosed and treated.

The National Science Foundation is another key investor offering $20 million that will help to develop molecular-scale probes that can sense and record the activity of neural networks.

Several private-sector organizations, such as The Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, are also committing to the initiative.

The initiative would be launched amid recent strides in neuroscience research. Researchers now have the ability to record thousands of neurons firing through an animal, which was found during testing.

They can also get a coarse-grained look at how regions of the human brain are connected by using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging.

While these technological innovations have contributed substantially to expanding scientific knowledge of the brain, significant breakthroughs in how neurological and psychiatric diseases are treated will require a new generation of tools to enable researchers to record signals from brain cells in much greater numbers and at ever faster speeds, according to a White House press release.

Obama said he believes the BRAIN Initiative has the ability to help billions of people.

“Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” Obama said in his State of the Union address.

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