Just over two years ago, President Obama made a dedication to support and enhance neuroscience research through the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, Initiative. The ultimate goal, a comprehensive map of the human brain under normal conditions and in various disease states, is a daunting and perhaps unattainable task.
However, a year after the announcement, tangible goals and measurable outcomes were further defined by a Working Group of scientists, and we are now beginning to see progress towards these goals.
In the first five years, the BRAIN Initiative will focus on the development of new technologies to study the brain in finer detail.
In the second five years, application of these technologies will help us unlock complexities of the brain to reveal new and fundamental discoveries about brain function.
While the White House is leading the charge in terms of coordination and promotion of BRAIN, the actual dollars come from investments committed by federal agencies, private foundations, biotechnology companies, and academic institutions.
Combined, these groups have pledged over $300 million in support of BRAIN-focused research.
One of the major backers is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is a federal agency that supports the majority of biological research in the country.
Last September, the NIH made its first investment of $46 million for BRAIN Initiative projects, funding over 100 scientists across the country!
Over the past 15 years, advanced imaging technologies have exploded in the field of neuroscience, allowing us to peer into the living mouse brain with temporal and spatial resolution spanning from the level of individual synapses up to cross-brain circuit function. So, while the idea of developing technologies to advance neuroscience is not new, the BRAIN Initiative is a specific commitment to the need for these technologies, and has kindled a desire in the public and among scientists to see these technologies advance.
Perhaps one of the most important roles of the White House BRAIN team is to unite scientists across disciplines, to inspire collaborations between engineers, neuroscientists, physicists, and computer scientists.
In an effort to advance the goals of the BRAIN Initiative and to strengthen collaborations in our pocket of the country, neuroscientists in Portland and Seattle have formed the Pacific Northwest NeuroNeighborhood.
The major contributors to the Northwest NeuroNeighborhood – the OHSU Brain Institute, the University of Washington, and the Allen Institute for Brain Science – are hosting the second annual NeuroFutures conference in Portland this summer.
With a focus on advances in neurotechnology and innovation, including topics on various imaging techniques, big data analytics, and brain/computer interfaces, the conference is well aligned with the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.
As the BRAIN Initiative continues to roll out and gain momentum, the hope is that not only BRAIN-supported researchers will benefit from these advances in technology, but that it will expand the discovery capacity for the entire field of neuroscience.
Find out more about how you can support brain research.
Kateri Spinelli, Ph.D. is a post doctoral fellow in the Department of Neurology.