Obama to unveil specifics of Brain Activity Map project

April 2, 2013

(Credit: stock image)

President Obama on Tuesday will announce specifics on the Brain Activity Map project Tuesday, The New York Times reports. The initiative, which will officially be known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or Brain for short, has been designated a grand challenge of the 21st century by the Obama administration.

The broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, is intended to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.

Three government agencies will be involved: the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. A working group at the NIH, described by the officials as a “dream team,” and led by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, will be charged with coming up with a plan, a time frame, specific goals and cost estimates for future budgets.

Brain researchers can now insert wires in the brain of animals, or sometimes human beings, to record the electrical activity of brain cells called neurons, as they communicate with each other. But, Dr. Newsome said, they can record at most hundreds at a time.

New technology would need to be developed to record thousands or hundreds of thousands of neurons at once. And, Dr. Newsome said, new theoretical approaches, new mathematics and new computer science are all needed to deal with the amount of data that will be garnered.

As part of the initiative, the president will require a study of the ethical implications of these sorts of advances in neuroscience.

The effort will require the development of new tools not yet available to neuroscientists and, eventually, perhaps lead to progress in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It will involve both government agencies and private institutions.