When President Obama announced the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) in April 2013, the vision of what could be accomplished was clear: “A human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections… there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be—will be—transformative.” The details for translating that vision into a scientific plan came into focus on June 5th when NIH Director Francis Collins enthusiastically accepted a project report crafted by the BRAIN Working Group of his Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD).
The report, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, provides a comprehensive plan for implementing the NIH BRAIN Initiative, a collaborative research endeavor launched in 2013 to map out neural circuits in the brain, track patterns of electrical and chemical activity within those circuits, and determine how that activity is translated into cognitive functions and behavior. While the ultimate goal of this initiative is generating basic neuroscience discoveries that provide a much deeper understanding of what makes us human—how we think, feel, make decisions and perceive the world—research supported by the initiative will almost certainly result in the development of new therapies for diseases of the brain and nervous system.
More than just a list of goals and timelines, the working group report provides a detailed road map for how to achieve the BRAIN Initiative’s extraordinary vision by expanding our current capacity for studying the brain along several fronts. It lays out a fascinating mix of advances that are within reach given the project’s proposed budget—roughly $4.5 billion of new money over 12 years—and high-risk projects with the power to revolutionize our understanding of the brain as well as spawn entire new industries and fields of scientific inquiry.
The report also serves as a powerful reminder of what can be achieved in a short time frame by a collection of truly committed individuals. Co-chaired by neuroscientists Cornelia Bargmann of Rockefeller University and Bill Newsome of Stanford University, the working group of 15 scientists included luminaries from the fields of chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering, reflecting the BRAIN Initiatives’ emphasis on cross-discipline collaboration. They solicited broad input on their interim report released on September 16, 2103 from fellow neuroscientists and clinicians and then seamlessly integrated the feedback into the new report. The open and collaborative relationships developed through this effort will have benefits well beyond the scope of this initiative.
NINDS will work closely with nine other NIH institutes and centers to implement the NIH BRAIN Initiative. NIH will in turn collaborate with DARPA, the National Science Foundation, FDA, and various foundations and research centers. NIH has already made significant progress. Based on guidance from the NIH BRAIN Working Group’s interim report, NIH released six funding opportunity announcements last December focused on creating a census of all the cell types in the brain, creating new tools for monitoring brain activity, and developing the next generation of for imaging the human brain. We are currently reviewing research proposals and look forward to investing $40 million in the most promising projects in September 2014. Going forward, President Obama included a request for $100 million for the initiative in his 2015 budget that would allow us to continue to expand the BRAIN Initiative by funding additional transformative neuroscience projects.
I encourage you to watch President Obama’s announcement of the BRAIN Initiative and read the new working group report to get a sense of the excitement this project is generating among scientists, clinicians, policymakers, and family members of those with neurological disorders.
Last updated August 13, 2014