Our View

Brain research initiative is a welcome idea

By From page A6 | April 09, 2013

The issue: If this even partially attains its lofty aims, scientists will have earned the gratitude of generations

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced a campaign supporting brain research. The BRAIN Initiative, from the rather tortured acronym Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, has ambitious goals, starting with mapping the human brain.

IT’S HOPED THAT the Brain Activity Map project, as it’s more commonly known, will lead to treatments for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke — increasing problems in an aging society — as well as autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury, the lingering curse of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The initial research will involve three government agencies: the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

But the initial funding request is modest. Obama said he would ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to begin brain-mapping. By contrast, mapping the human genome — the body’s set of genetic instructions — cost the government $2.7 billion by the time it was completed in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The president is counting on that initial investment to leverage massive amounts of investment in the brain initiative — from foundations, philanthropists and private companies.

In addition to the research’s medical benefits, Obama envisions millions of Americans “suddenly finding new jobs in these fields — jobs we haven’t even dreamed up yet — because we chose to invest in this project,” he said in introducing the project.

THE TASK OF HOW we get there from here is being handed to a high-level working group co-chaired by Cornelia Bargmann of The Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University. The group will develop a plan, timetable and cost estimates to achieve these goals.

If the BRAIN Initiative even partially attains its lofty aims, the scientists and other researchers behind it will have earned the gratitude of generations. But the money first must be raised to fund it.

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