Brainbow brain scan in mice

On Tuesday, President Obama unveiled a new initiative to map the human brain. The plan is to invest $100 million starting in 2014, so scientists can create a “road map” of the brain’s circuits, similar to the documentation done for the Human Genome Project. The initiative could develop tools to help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and it’s being co-led by a Stanford scientist. But critics say there are no clear end goals and no set deadline, and that the money could be better used elsewhere.

Partha Mitra, professor of neuroscience and theoretical biology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; he runs the Mouse Brain Architecture Project, which maps the brains of mice
Carl Zimmer, science writer who writes frequently for National Geographic and the New York Times and a three-time winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Journalism Award
John Ngai, professor of molecular and cell biology and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley
Edward "Eddie" Chang, associate professor of neurosurgery and physiology at UCSF; he's been able to map the brain of human subjects by recording the brain's activity while the patient is undergoing brain surgery
William "Bill" Newsome, co-leader of the BRAIN initiative; professor of neurobiology, Standford School of Medicine

  • practiCalfMRI

    If this project is well delineated, how do the organizers know that the requisite budge is $100m? Might it not be only $80m? Or $260m? How is the budget calculated? Is this not simply a money grab for a few groups? And if it is “venture capital” then what alternative stimulus schemes have been considered?

    • Chemist150

      The way that the money is split by these institutions makes it a small sum for “venture capital”. The money is often spent in universities for research or new upstarts that follow up on research coming from universities. This, however, does not prevent billion dollar companies taking the time to fill out the paper work to scape in a million or two.

  • John S

    I see a huge need in developing technology to help getting at the root cause of chronic pain that so many people suffer from. Doctors have essentially nothing to offer patients in this regard. It seems very difficult – what are the prospects for this sort of technology?

  • Aaron

    It is about time! This I truly the direction we need to go in science, society, and as a people. There is a growing concensus that understanding how networks work is critical to facing our ability to face problems ranging from major to the mundane. What network is more critical then the one between our ears? That inner universe interfaces with our larger physical world in real and meaningful ways. If we can understand our inner world then we might find insight into the complexity we live everyday.
    Do your guests consider the brain a “network” as we understand them, or is there a different way of framing it?

  • EmailGuy

    I understand the concerns about the cost in an era of strict fiscal responsibility. But let’s put this in perspective – the total funding is less than the cost of 1 day of the war in Iraq. And the potential benefits are incalculable. We know so little about the brain and this could be the equivalent in psychology of Isabel commissioning Columbus ushering in a new era of research and advancements.

    If it even yields a single advancement that benefits our treatment or prevention of a major mental health issue, the return would be immeasurable.

    • Chemist150

      This is a tiny amount relative to Obama’s usual requests plus fundamental research is always good and needs funding since companies are looking for ways to make money for investors. While often failing, they definitely avoid costly fundamental research and often try to piggy back off of research coming out of universities.

      $100 million is a drop in the bucket on a research scale. To develop one drug, it costs $700-900 million from discovery to market.Include all the failures and that cost is $4-5 billion to develop one drug. The pharmaceutical industry and number of upstarts are hurting because of this. People cry about high prices but all the obvious drugs are out like aspirin. There needs to be much more fundamental research to get to the more difficult problems and it’s not going to be getting cheaper.

      That cost is for one company, consider now that $50 million is going to one place (DARPA) and then $60 million would get split up among many. The DARPA project has the golden egg here and how the rest is spent is critical. If it goes to companies, it’s a drop in the bucket. Best use would be universities that are publishing for public use. How it is spent is always critical and this is a much better investment than the clean energy techs given that the people granting the money have no knowledge of the processes and possibilities of success and were misled by people trying to get money. The fundamental research needed should be more obvious with this one but I won’t underestimate the stupidity of bureaucrats.

    • Charley_Crews

      TOTALLY agree!

  • Jerry Thornhill

    Aren’t universities, medical facilities, neuroscience institutes, etc. across the country already doing a multitude of types of brain studies? And receiving grants for that purpose? How is this different?

  • mpaine

    I haven’t heard anything related to man-machine interfacing with respect to their goals.

  • To me this is one more red herring for brain science. All the money goes to research based on the idea the brain is a machine, all we need to do is understand all the wiring and we will have total understanding. It will produce some interesting and useful data, no doubt, but it won’t help us understand why disturbed people are disturbed, or bring the imminent arrival of personalized medicine, because it ignores the chemical nature of the brain that is what really makes people different from one another.

  • Jason Pipkin

    It’s misleading to refer to this as a “mapping” initiative. It was known before this announce as the “brain activity map” project, but even then that was a misnomer. The goal is to develop technologies to record from many neurons. Anatomy isn’t really part of it.

  • Ashley LeGrand Monteith

    I for one am glad to see this money going to them My neorologist is at UCSF and after 2 brain surgerys on my front left temperol lobe Im still having multiple gran mal seizures daily and now I have very bad short term memory loss so if this can help people like me in the future Im all for it! Until you walk a day in someone elses shoe’s you shouldn’t judge either!! thats all I’m saying and youll never see me on here again so bye!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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