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NIDCD Highlights

NIH Jumpstarts the Future of Neuroscience with the BRAIN Initiative

A map of overall task-fMRI brain coverage from the seven tasks used in the Human Connectome Project. Yellow and red represent regions that become more active in most participants during one or more tasks in the MR scanner; blue represents regions that become less active.
A map of overall task-fMRI brain coverage from the
seven tasks used in the Human Connectome Project.
Yellow and red represent regions that become more
active in most participants during one or more tasks in
the MR scanner; blue represents regions that become
less active.
(Source: D.M. Barch for the WU-Minn HCP Consortium.)

On April 2, President Barack Obama announced a proposal for an ambitious new neuroscience research initiative called the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. In addition to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the BRAIN Initiative will also include participation from the Department of Defenses’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and private foundations including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

Neuroscience has reached a point where radical new discoveries are being held back by a lag in the technology needed to understand how complicated neural networks in the brain work, explained NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. in a White House Q&A session.

“This initiative is an idea whose time has come. We have learned over the course of years how to record from individual neurons and to see what happens when they are being activated, and to learn a bit about how they’re connected. We know there’s a hundred billion [neurons] in the human brain, and that each one of those makes thousands of connections. But we haven’t been able to really understand what’s going on in real time in the circuits in the brain that control important things like the visual system, like memories, like even consciousness,” said Dr. Collins.

“We would love to be able to take advantage of new technologies that are just now being invented . . .  and utilize that to build a new foundation upon which we can build new insights into Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); all of these conditions that we know have their basic difficulties residing in the brain but where our tools for understanding them have been limited,” he added.

While many diseases and disorders studied by the NIDCD have a structural basis—in physical defects or damage to the sensory organs—many also have a neurological origin, making the BRAIN Initiative timely for NIDCD researchers and grantees.

The NIH has committed $40 million dollars to the initiative in Fiscal Year ’14, to be channeled through the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research. This summer, an advisory committee to the NIH Director will define the goals and develop a multi-year plan, using feedback from the larger neuroscience community.

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