DNA harvesting, mRNA technologies, mind-reading and more – this was the official race start signal at the Transhumanist Olympics, all the way back in 2013
The vision for the BRAIN Initiative is to combine these areas of research into a coherent, integrated science of cells, circuits, brain and behavior.
- Generate a census of brain cell types
- Create structural maps of the brain
- Develop new, large-scale neural network recording capabilities
- Develop a suite of tools for neural circuit manipulation
- Link neuronal activity to behavior
- Integrate theory, modeling, statistics and computation with neuroscience experiments
- Delineate mechanisms underlying human brain imaging technologies
- Create mechanisms to enable collection of human data for scientific research
- Disseminate knowledge and training
HOW THE BRAIN INITIATIVE® WORKS
Given the ambitious scope of this pioneering endeavor, it was vital that planning be informed by a wide range of expertise and experience. Therefore, NIH established a high level working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) to help shape this new initiative.
This working group, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University) sought broad input from the scientific community, patient advocates, and the general public. Their report, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, released in June 2014 and enthusiastically endorsed by the ACD, articulated the scientific goals of The BRAIN Initiative® and developed a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates.
Of course, a goal this audacious will require ideas from the best scientists and engineers across many diverse disciplines and sectors. Therefore, NIH is working in close collaboration with other government agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). Private partners are also committed to ensuring success through investment in The BRAIN Initiative®.
Five years ago a project such as this would have been considered impossible. Five years from now will be too late. While the goals are profoundly ambitious, the time is right to inspire a new generation of neuroscientists to undertake the most groundbreaking approach ever contemplated to understanding how the brain works, and how disease occurs.
The White House Office of the Press Secretary, For Immediate Release, April 02, 2013
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE BRAIN INITIATIVE AND AMERICAN INNOVATION
East Room 10:04 A.M. EDT
Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Well, first of all, let me thank Dr. Collins not just for the introduction but for his incredible leadership at NIH. Those of you who know Francis also know that he’s quite a gifted singer and musician. So I was asking whether he was going to be willing to sing the introduction — (laughter) — and he declined. But his leadership has been extraordinary. And I’m glad I’ve been promoted Scientist-in-Chief. (Laughter.)
Given my grades in physics, I’m not sure it’s deserving. But I hold science in proper esteem, so maybe that gives me a little credit. Today I’ve invited some of the smartest people in the country, some of the most imaginative and effective researchers in the country — some very smart people to talk about the challenge that I issued in my State of the Union address: to grow our economy, to create new jobs, to reignite a rising, thriving middle class by investing in one of our core strengths, and that’s American innovation. Ideas are what power our economy. It’s what sets us apart. It’s what America has been all about. We have been a nation of dreamers and risk-takers; people who see what nobody else sees sooner than anybody else sees it. We do innovation better than anybody else — and that makes our economy stronger.
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. And because of that incredible dynamism, we don’t just attract the best scientists or the best entrepreneurs — we also continually invest in their success. We support labs and universities to help them learn and explore. And we fund grants to help them turn a dream into a reality. And we have a patent system to protect their inventions. And we offer loans to help them turn those inventions into successful businesses.
And the investments don’t always pay off. But when they do, they change our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. Computer chips and GPS technology, the Internet — all these things grew out of government investments in basic research. And sometimes, in fact, some of the best products and services spin off completely from unintended research that nobody expected to have certain applications.
Businesses then used that technology to create countless new jobs.
So the founders of Google got their early support from the National Science Foundation. The Apollo project that put a man on the moon also gave us eventually CAT scans. And every dollar we spent to map the human genome has returned $140 to our economy — $1 of investment, $140 in return.
Dr. Collins helped lead that genome effort, and that’s why we thought it was appropriate to have him here to announce the next great American project, and that’s what we’re calling the BRAIN Initiative.
As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears. (Laughter.) But today, scientists possess the capability to study individual neurons and figure out the main functions of certain areas of the brain. But a human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections.
So Dr. Collins says it’s like listening to the strings section and trying to figure out what the whole orchestra sounds like. So as a result, we’re still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke. And the most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with. So 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. In the budget I will send to Congress next week, I will propose a significant investment by the National Institutes of Health, DARPA, and the National Science Foundation to help get this project off the ground.
I’m directing my bioethics commission to make sure all of the research is being done in a responsible way. And we’re also partnering with the private sector, including leading companies and foundations and research institutions, to tap the nation’s brightest minds to help us reach our goal. And of course, none of this will be easy. If it was, we would already know everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably my life would be simpler here. (Laughter.) It could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington. (Laughter.) We could prescribe something. (Laughter.)
So it won’t be easy. But think about what we could do once we do crack this code. Imagine if no family had to feel helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of Parkinson’s or struggle in the grip of epilepsy. Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury or PTSD for our veterans who are coming home. Imagine if someone with a prosthetic limb can now play the piano or throw a baseball as well as anybody else, because the wiring from the brain to that prosthetic is direct and triggered by what’s already happening in the patient’s mind. What if computers could respond to our thoughts or our language barriers could come tumbling down. Or if millions of Americans were suddenly finding new jobs in these fields — jobs we haven’t even dreamt up yet — because we chose to invest in this project. That’s the future we’re imagining. That’s what we’re hoping for. That’s why the BRAIN Initiative is so absolutely important. And that’s why it’s so important that we think about basic research generally as a driver of growth and that we replace the across-the-board budget cuts that are threatening to set us back before we even get started.
A few weeks ago, the directors of some of our national laboratories said that the sequester — these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that have gone into place — are so severe, so poorly designed that they will hold back a generation of young scientists. When our leading thinkers wonder if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they’re not sure whether the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that’s something we should worry about. We can’t afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead. We have to seize them. I don’t want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here, in the United States of America. And that’s part of what this BRAIN Initiative is about. That’s why we’re pursuing other “grand challenges” like making solar energy as cheap as coal or making electric vehicles as affordable as the ones that run on gas. They’re ambitious goals, but they’re achievable. And we’re encouraging companies and research universities and other organizations to get involved and help us make progress. We have a chance to improve the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this planet through the research that’s done in this BRAIN Initiative alone.
But it’s going to require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it’s going to require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that is what made America, America. They year before I was born, an American company came out with one of the earliest mini-computers. It was a revolutionary machine, didn’t require its own air conditioning system. That was a big deal. It took only one person to operate, but each computer was eight feet tall, weighed 1,200 pounds, and cost more than $100,000. And today, most of the people in this room, including the person whose cell phone just rang — (laughter) — have a far more powerful computer in their pocket. Computers have become so small, so universal, so ubiquitous, most of us can’t imagine life without them — certainly, my kids can’t. And, as a consequence, millions of Americans work in fields that didn’t exist before their parents were born. Watson, the computer that won “Jeopardy,” is now being used in hospitals across the country to diagnose diseases like cancer. That’s how much progress has been made in my lifetime and in many of yours. That’s how fast we can move when we make the investments.
But we can’t predict what that next big thing will be. We don’t know what life will be like 20 years from now, or 50 years, or 100 years down the road. What we do know is if we keep investing in the most prominent, promising solutions to our toughest problems, then things will get better. I don’t want our children or grandchildren to look back on this day and wish we had done more to keep America at the cutting edge. I want them to look back and be proud that we took some risks, that we seized this opportunity. That’s what the American story is about. That’s who we are.
That’s why this BRAIN Initiative is so important. And if we keep taking bold steps like the one we’re talking about to learn about the brain, then I’m confident America will continue to lead the world in the next frontiers of human understanding. And all of you are going to help us get there.
So I’m very excited about this project. Francis, let’s get to work. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE LIST OF RESEARCHES THEY FUNDED MIGHT BLOW YOUR BRAIN
THEIR REPORT BELOW SEEMS TO CONFIRM OUR EARLIER REPORT THAT MRNA IS A GATEWAY TO THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOURS
PRIVATE SECTOR PARTNERS
Key private sector partners have made important commitments to support the BRAIN Initiative, including:
- The Allen Institute for Brain Science: The Allen Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization, is a leader in large-scale brain research and public sharing of data and tools. In March 2012, the Allen Institute for Brain Science embarked upon a ten-year project to understand the neural code: how brain activity leads to perception, decision making, and ultimately action. The Allen Institute’s expansion, with a $300M investment from philanthropist Paul G. Allen in the first four years, was based on the recent unprecedented advances in technologies for recording the brain’s activity and mapping its interconnections. More than $60M annually will be spent to support Allen Institute projects related to the BRAIN Initiative.
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute: HHMI is the Nation’s largest nongovernmental funder of basic biomedical research and has a long history of supporting basic neuroscience research. HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia was opened in 2006 with the goal of developing new imaging technologies and understanding how information is stored and processed in neural networks. It will spend at least $30 million annually to support projects related to this initiative.
- Kavli Foundation: The Kavli Foundation anticipates supporting activities that are related to this project with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next ten years. This figure includes a portion of the expected annual income from the endowments of existing Kavli Institutes and endowment gifts to establish new Kavli Institutes over the coming decade. This figure also includes the Foundation’s continuing commitment to supporting project meetings and selected other activities.
- Salk Institute for Biological Studies: The Salk Institute, under its Dynamic Brain Initiative, will dedicate over $28 million to work across traditional boundaries of neuroscience, producing a sophisticated understanding of the brain, from individual genes to neuronal circuits to behavior. To truly understand how the brain operates in both healthy and diseased states, scientists will map out the brain’s neural networks and unravel how they interrelate. To stave off or reverse diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, scientists will explore the changes that occur in the brain as we age, laying the groundwork for prevention and treatment of age-related neurological diseases.
Source: The White House
“National Institutes of Health chief Francis Collins says the brain initiative builds on recent advances in attaching electronic implants to brain cells. That was demonstrated last year in dramatic scenes of fully paralyzed patients manipulating robot arms to sip coffee and grasp rubber balls. And through increased computer power, scientists are now better able to collect data from the 86 billion vastly interconnected cells within the 3-pound human brain.”
WHITE HOUSE PITCHES BRAIN MAPPING PROJECT
April 2, 2013, 12:00 PM CESTBy Peter Alexander and Alastair Jamieson, NBC News and Maggie Fox, Senior Writer
President Obama pitched a human brain research initiative on Tuesday that he likened to the Human Genome Project to map all the human DNA, and said it will not only help find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism, but create jobs and drive economic growth…
It’s not clear just what the initiative will do. Obama and collins said they’d appointed a “dream team” of experts to lay out the agenda — they should report back before the end of the summer. They are led by neurobiologists Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University.
The public-private initiative, with money from groups such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s brain mapping project, aims to find a way to take pictures of the brain in action in real time.
“We want to understand the brain to know how we reason, how we memorize, how we learn, how we move, how our emotions work. These abilities define us, yet we hardly understand any of it,” said Miyoung Chun, vice president of science programs at The Kavli Foundation, which is taking part in the initiative and which funds basic research in neuroscience and physics.
The project has some big money and some big science to build on. Allen pumped another $300 million into his institute’s brain mapping initiative a year ago, and has published freely available maps of the human and mouse brains. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute built a whole research campus devoted to brain science, called Janelia Farm, in Virginia.
Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) pointed to a project that allowed a quadriplegic woman to control a robot arm with her thoughts alone.
“There is nothing like a project to inspire people to go to that next level,” Collins told a telephone briefing.
Not everybody is happy about a centralized, administration-led project. Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said earlier this year that grand projects in biology such as Project ENCODE for DNA analysis were emerging as the “greatest threat” to individual discovery-driven science.
“It’s one thing to fund neuroscience, another to have a centralized 10-year project to ‘solve the brain,’” Eisen wrote in a Twitter update in February.
“It’s great to see the president supporting basic neuroscience research. And the amount of money is enough to seed new initiatives, which is the way to start something,”
WHO WILL PAY FOR OBAMA’S AMBITIOUS BRAIN PROJECT?
An MRI scan reveals the gross anatomical structure of the human brain. (Image credit: Courtesy FONAR Corporation)
The initial funding for a major new brain research initiative will come largely from the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with contributions from the National Science Foundation and private foundations, officials said today (April 2).
After President Obama announced the launch of the BRAIN Initiative this morning, the directors of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and DARPA took public questions via the Internet about specific plans for the project and who will pay. The agencies expect about $100 million in 2014 to start the initiative.
BRAIN stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. In it’s planning stages, the project was called the Brain Activity Map, because the goal is to understand how neural networks function. Currently, researchers can detect the activities of single brain cells; they can also measure brain activity on the macro level using technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging. But the middle level — the actions of hundreds and thousands of neurons working together in circuits — remains largely mysterious.
“This initiative is an idea whose time has come,” NIH director Francis Collins said in the White House Q&A session. He called the human brain the “greatest scientific frontier you could think of.” [Gallery: Slicing Through the Brain]
Funding the brain map
President Obama announced this morning that the Fiscal Year 2014 budget would include about $100 million in seed funding for the BRAIN Initiative. Collins broke those numbers down: The NIH will provide about $40 million, much of that from the Neuroscience Blueprint, an NIH collaboration with a rolling investment fund for nervous system research. Some NIH discretionary funds will also go toward the project, Collins said.
The National Science Foundation will provide about $20 million in funding, Collins said, and DARPA will contribute about $50 million. Private foundations, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Kavli Institute, will also provide funds.
DARPA’s interest in the project stems largely from concerns about “wounded warriors,” said director Arati Prabhakar. The agency hopes the BRAIN Initiative will provide answers about how to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and other neurological problems for injured soldiers. The project may also inspire new computing processes as scientists learn how the brain works and use that as inspiration for artificial circuits, Prabhakar said.
Federal funding for research has been flat in recent years, and the federal budget sequester has further squeezed agencies such as the NIH and NSF with 9 percent cuts across the board. The BRAIN Initiative is projected to last more than a decade, with no guarantee the fiscal situation will bounce back. Some neuroscience researchers, including Donald Stein of the Emory School of Medicine, have argued that funding is a “zero-sum game” and that the BRAIN Initiative will take resources from other worthy brain research causes.
Collins acknowledged the budget challenge.
“One might well ask, ‘Is this the wrong time to be starting something new and innovative?’” he said.
But with the technology needed to measure large neural networks just coming into its own, delaying would be counterproductive, Collins argued.
“If you could see the opportunity for the next big advance … it would be very hard to say we’re going to hunker down for awhile and wait until the budget gets better,” he said.
A $4.5 BILLION PRICE TAG FOR THE BRAIN INITIATIVE?
The price of President Barack Obama’s BRAIN may have just skyrocketed. Last year, the White House unveiled a bold project to map the human brain in action, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, and commanded several federal agencies to quickly develop plans to make it reality. To kick-start the project, the president allocated about $100 million this year to BRAIN, spread over the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Now, after more than a year of meetings and deliberations, an NIH-convened working group has fleshed out some of the goals and aspirations of BRAIN and tried to offer a more realistic appraisal of the funding needed for the agency’s share of the project: $4.5 billion over the course of a decade.
Neuroscientist Cornelia Bargmann, of Rockefeller University in New York City, who led the working group, sought to put that cost in perspective at a press conference today, saying it amounted to “about one six-pack of beer for each American over the entire 12 years of the program.”
NIH, which provides $40 million of BRAIN’s current funding, doesn’t have a plan in place for where to get extra money called for in the new report, NIH Director Francis Collins told reporters. “It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap,” he says. Regardless, Collins, who commissioned the new report to guide his agency’s role in the initiative, embraced the plan wholeheartedly:
— Francis S. Collins (@NIHDirector) June 5, 2014
The report lays out a 10- to 12-year plan for investing $300 million to $500 million per year to develop new tools to monitor and map brain activity and structure, beginning in fiscal year 2016. It suggests focusing on tool development for the first 5 to 6 years, then ramping up funding as new techniques come online. A key goal is to produce cheaper, more accessible tools that all researchers can use without needing special training, so that the overall cost of doing neuroscience research goes down over time, Bargmann says.
The panel acknowledges the uncertainty of their cost estimate. “While we did not conduct a detailed cost analysis, we considered the scope of the questions to be addressed by the initiative, and the cost of programs that have developed in related areas over recent years. Thus our budget estimates, while provisional, are informed by the costs of real neuroscience at this technological level,” the group writes.
The first round of requests for NIH grant applications already went out last fall, and awardees will be announced in September, according to Collins. Additional opportunities to apply for NIH funding will open up by fall, based on this new, more detailed report, he says. Researchers planning to apply “may now consider that [the report] is a blueprint of where we want to go,” Collins added.
*Correction, 10 June, 12:17 p.m.: This article has been corrected to reflect that the $4.5 billion proposed price tag for the BRAIN initiative refers only to NIH’s portion of the project, not all funding. – Science Mag.
ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO THE DIRECTOR, BRAIN RESEARCH THROUGH ADVANCING INNOVATIVE NEUROTECHNOLOGIES® (BRAIN) INITIATIVE WORKING GROUP
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) convened a BRAIN Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, to develop a rigorous plan for achieving this scientific vision. This report presents the findings and recommendations of the working group, including the scientific background and rationale for The BRAIN Initiative® as a whole and for each of seven major goals articulated in the report. In addition, we include specific deliverables, timelines, and cost estimates for these goals as requested by the NIH Director. Read more in the BRAIN 2025 Report.
As the NIH BRAIN Initiative rapidly approached its halfway point, the ACD BRAIN Initiative Working Group 2.0 was asked to assess BRAIN’s progress and advances within the context of the original BRAIN 2025 report, identify key opportunities to apply new and emerging tools to revolutionize our understanding of brain circuits, and designate valuable areas of continued technology development. Alongside, the BRAIN Neuroethics Subgroup was tasked with considering the ethical implications of ongoing research and forecasting what the future of BRAIN advancements might entail, crafting a neuroethics “roadmap” for the Initiative. Read more in the BRAIN 2.0 companion reports (BRAIN Initiative 2.0 report and Neuroethics report).
The BRAIN Initiative has never been concluded. We’re living it now.
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