Scientists from The Rockefeller University and Stanford University are part of a “dream team” assembled to create a real-time map of the human brain after President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve $110 million in new spending for brain research, an investment he said would benefit not just science but the economy.
“Ideas are what power our economy,” Obama said April 2 in announcing the proposal. “When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else.”
The “BRAIN” initiative — for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — would start with $110 million in the budget for fiscal year 2014 that Obama plans to unveil next week.
“This is our moon shot,” said John Ngai, director of UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and professor of molecular and cell biology, who attended Obama’s BRAIN initiative announcement. “The president is giving U.S. scientists the support and resources to develop the tools we can use to really start to understand how the brain works. This is a lasting legacy that will be felt for generations.”
The BRAIN project will map connections between the brain’s 10 billion neurons while studying how these messages re transmitted, Ngai said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement that the project “is exactly the type of research we should be funding,” but called for funds already allocated to be diverted to pay for it.
The National Institutes of Health has the discretion to redirect other funds to support such a project. White House aides declined to say whether the president would order federal officials to do that.
As he offered the first glimpse of his proposed budget, Obama also acknowledged the difficulty ahead in the effort to pass it.
“Of course, none of this will be easy,” he told an audience in the East Room of the White House. “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.”
The long-term goal of the BRAIN initiative is to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, according to a White House release. The project would speed up development and application of new technologies for mapping the brain and showing how brain cells and neural circuits operate.
In addition to devoting new money to research, the administration would support a working group led by leading researchers.
Obama said he also would direct an administration commission on bioethics to “make sure all of the research is being done in a responsible way.”
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