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A Glance at Obama’s BRAIN Initiative Project

Submitted by on April 30, 2013 – 9:00 PM

Understanding how the brain works is arguably one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. The human brain is a very complex organ consisting of 100 billion neurons; the basic building blocks of the human brain. On April 2, 2013, President Obama announced a new cross-agency focus and federal investment in brain research, including a new initiative at the National Institutes of Health: the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also commonly referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project). The goal of this project is to map out the activity of entire neurons in the human brain. It is a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain and discover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism, traumatic brain injury and so on.


The initiative promises to accelerate the development of new technologies  that will help researchers in understanding the complex neural circuits and visualize the interactions of cells that occur at the speed of thought. In his remarks, the President highlighted the BRAIN initiative as one of the administration’s “Grand Challenges”. Society for Neuroscience (SfN) President Larry Swanson attended the White House announcement, and issued the following statement:

“The Society for Neuroscience is encouraged and appreciative that the Obama Administration recognizes brain science as one of the great scientific challenges of our time. Today’s announcement and first investment will enable the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to develop initial tools and conduct further planning that will help accelerate fundamental discoveries and improve the health and quality of life for more than 1 billion people worldwide estimated to be suffering from the more than 1,000 brain diseases and disorders.”

Key Facts and Figures

Key Investments to launch this Effort

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): $50 million for understanding the dynamic functions of the brain.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): Approximately $40 million to develop new tools, training opportunities, and other resources.

National Science Foundation (NSF): Approximately $20 million to support research that spans physical, biological, social, and behavioral sciences.

Possible Long-Term Outcomes

To understand the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease in a better way to inform improved treatments, preventions, and even cures.

Reduce language barriers through technological advances in how computers interface with human thought.

Develop solutions to prevent, treat, or even reverse the harmful e­ffects of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Private Sector Partners and their Goals

The Allen Institute for Brain Science: Understand how brain activity leads to perception, decision making and ultimately action.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Develop new imaging technologies and understand how information is stored and processed in neural networks.

Kavli Foundation: Provide the knowledge for addressing debilitating diseases and conditions.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies: Produce a sophisticated understanding of the brain, from individual genes to neuronal circuits to behavior.

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