The BRAIN Initiative: Public-Private Partnership to Map the Function of the Human Brain

The BRAIN Initiative
The BRAIN Initiative

From The Quarterly, Summer 2013

On April 2, President Barack Obama announced a bold new research initiative—the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies)—to “unlock” the mysteries of the brain and map its activity and functioning. Being compared to the Human Genome Project, the Initiative calls for public and private collaboration to support a multi-year, broad-based research program to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders.

The new Initiative acknowledges the great progress being made in neuroscience and also emphasizes the crucial role of new technologies in advancing what we can know about how the brain functions. The White House cited optogenetics, developed by Dr. Karl Deisseroth with the early support of a Foundation NARSAD Grant, as one of the “landmark discoveries that now create the opportunity to unlock the mysteries of the brain.”

Dr. Deisseroth, an active Foundation Scientific Council Member, is one of the 15 leading neuroscientists and biologists tapped to serve on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on the BRAIN Initiative. The Committee is currently working to flesh out the aims and approaches of the project. Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH, will funnel the group’s findings directly to President Obama. Dr. David Anderson, a 2007 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee, is also serving on the Advisory Committee. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are also being consulted.

“We’re actually a pre-advisory group,” Dr. Deisseroth explains, “and we’re collecting information from the neuroscience community and helping to think about what would be a useful direction for this project to go in.”

“The brain is a very complex structure; it’s data-rich; and it’s hard to access. If we can figure out how to build technologies that are needed to probe that structure, we’ll learn many interesting things. We’ll not only understand ourselves better, but understand the brain and behavioral disorders that affect so many of us better—and on this basis be able to come up with new ideas for treatments.”

By funding NARSAD Young, Independent and Distinguished Investigators with innovative ideas to support the BRAIN Initiative, we can provide critical support. The President has earmarked $100 million for the project for fiscal year 2014 and we hope to have a record-breaking year of fundraising to substantially augment this amount with private contributions.