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Saturday, April 06, 2013
President Obama Pitches Brain Mapping Project, But Are We Late To The Table?
President Obama has proposed $100 million in federal funding to seed an exhaustive brain mapping initiative similar to the Human Genome Project that mapped all human DNA, officially called Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN).
“Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury and PTSD for our wounded veterans coming home,” Obama said at an event unveiling the initiative at the White House. He also pointed to the initiative as a major step toward finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism.
Aside from these health benefits, Obama said the project will eventually create jobs and drive economic growth. He cited the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, as proof, claiming it had paid $141 for every dollar invested.
“As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away, study particles smaller than an atom but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter than sits between our ears,” Obama said.
The President’s proposal will be sent to Congress next week as part of his overall budget request. Early on, the initiative seems to have bipartisan support.
“Mapping the human brain is exactly the type of research we should be funding, by reprioritizing the $250 million we currently spend on political and social science research into expanded medical research, including the expedited mapping of the human brain. It’s great science,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a public statement.
This response sounds promising (few want to be on the wrong side of brain research), but one might ask why it has taken the U.S. so long to arrive at a table populated with global superpowers?
The European Union, for example, already has a similar initiative up and running called The Human Brain Project, funded with one billion euros (one euro equals roughly $1.28). It’s only a few months old, but arrived to the table significantly earlier than BRAIN.
China may be farther along than Europe or the U.S., with older initiatives such as Brainnetome, and long-standing ties to the U.S.-based Organization for Human Brain Mapping, which held its 2012 Annual Meeting in Beijing.
And a number of private companies around the world have already started brain mapping projects, although its unlikely any have the breadth and depth of the initiative President Obama has announced.
No doubt, a down economy and increasingly stringent budget constraints have stalled the White House’s momentum, and in this case the saying “better late than never” certainly applies.
As outlined by the White House, BRAIN will be a broad-based public-private partnership involving top researchers from government agencies and privately funded organizations, including: the National Institutes ofHealth (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), The Allen Institute for Brain Science, The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
That’s a lot of fire power, and if organized successfully the results could be astonishing.
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