US to launch major brain research initiative

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 04 April 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2156
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

US president Barack Obama announced on 2 April that he will include about $100m (£66.1m; €77.9m) in his 2014 budget to jumpstart a major initiative to map the human brain.

The goal of the BRAIN Initiative—short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies—is to develop technology that will help researchers study individual brain cells as well as complex neural circuits.1 2

Knowledge gained from the initiative should lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, brain trauma, and other common neurological conditions, the president said.

“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,” Obama said in a press event announcing the new project.

“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.”

Under the proposal, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will direct $40m to the initiative in fiscal year 2014; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, $50m; and the National Science Foundation, $20m.

The scientific goals, timetables, milestones, and cost estimates for the initiative will be drawn up by an NIH working group co-chaired by Rockefeller University’s Cornelia Bargmann and Stanford University’s William Newsome.

The federal agencies will also partner with companies, foundations, and private research institutions. Among these partners, the Allen Institute for Brain Science has promised to spend at least $60m a year towards the project; the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has committed to spend $30m a year; the Kavli Foundation has committed to spend $4m a year for 10 years; and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has promised to dedicate $28m to the project.

After obtaining comment from scientists, patients, advocacy groups, and the public, the initiative’s working group will produce an interim report this fall outlining recommendations for high priority investments for fiscal year 2014. A final report will be submitted to the NIH director by June 2014.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2156