Mapping the brain
Thoughts on the BRAIN Initiative
The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, a project President Obama discussed in his most recent State of the Union, was formally announced yesterday at the White House. Using the $3.8 billion Human Genome Project as a success case, the White House outlined their plan for BRAIN, citing that this project will spark innovation and create jobs in a number of business sectors.
The BRAIN Initiative is launching with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
Foundations and private research institutions are also investing in the neuroscience that will advance the BRAIN Initiative. The Allen Institute for Brain Science, for example, will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to this initiative. The Kavli Foundation plans to support BRAIN Initiative-related activities with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next ten years. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will also dedicate research funding for projects that support the BRAIN Initiative.
There has been a large and mostly welcoming response to the proposed plan.
The New York Times’ Editorial Board applauded the BRAIN Initiative, and stated that even more can be done.
[A] modest but welcome start for an effort that could transform our understanding of how the brain works and help researchers find new ways to treat and prevent brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s...
Some researchers think a higher level of financing — perhaps $300 million in federal support annually — will be needed over the next decade to make substantial progress. For now, Mr. Obama’s challenge to the nation’s research community to get started is a big leap forward.
The Economic Times focused on BRAIN’s potential global economic benefits.
President Barack Obama said he wanted the next job-creating discoveries to happen in the US and not in India or China.
"We can't afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead. We have to seize them. I don't want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here," Obama said.
Even Newt Gingrich, a longtime critic of President Obama, welcomes the plan.
“President Obama is taking a very important step toward the most dramatic breakthroughs in human health,” Gingrich said in a statement. ”Brain research is vital for Autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, mental health, and a host of other concerns...”
“When I was Speaker we balanced the federal budget while doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health,” Gingrich continued. “We should have increased the National Science Foundation budget at the same time. One of the keys to brain research is better computation and better storage systems. President Obama deserves credit for taking an important step in the right direction.”
More surprising, the current House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, praised the initiative.
[Cantor] took advantage of the opportunity to announce the House of Representative’s own plan to fund additional research on the brain. He unveiled the Kids First Research Act, a proposal not yet introduced on the House floor. Cantor said in a statement:
“Mapping the human brain is exactly the type of research we should be funding, by reprioritizing the $250 million we currently spend on political and social science research into expanded medical research, including the expedited mapping of the human brain. It’s great science.”
Of course, there have also been some questioning the project.
Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize–winning neuropsychiatrist at Columbia University, is in favor of the program, saying it is in excellent hands, but questions the goal of the program.
The cost of the Human Genome Project, $3.8 billion, far exceeded the initial round of funding for the BRAIN initiative. And Kandel said the goal of the Genome Project, to map all genes in human DNA, was much clearer than BRAIN.“We knew the endpoint,” Kandel said. “But here, we don’t know what the goal is. What does it mean to understand the human mind? When will we be satisfied? This is much, much more ambitious.”
Then there are some who are simply flat out against the idea. Tim Cavanaugh, Executive Editor of the Daily Caller, had some choice words about the BRAIN initiative.
The BRAIN initiative would most likely allow Washington to swoop in and take credit for high-level research that’s already going on.In his comments Tuesday, Obama continued the hard-to-substantiate “job-creating” theme from his SOTU address..
Considering the highly unpopular results of the administration’s economic stimulus efforts, you might expect the president to soft-pedal such airy claims about centrally planned fiscal boosts. Unfortunately, Obama seems wedded to the myth of spending multipliers that get more outlandish with each retelling. [P]ublic money dumps like this are damaging… they take our eye off the actual causes of both economic sluggishness and research obstacles. “Why doesn’t he support reducing taxes and regulations so that private sector companies (existing and startups) can flourish and undertake the type of R&D which is very expensive into brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s?” Pacific Research Institute president Sally Pipes said in an email to The Daily Caller. “I don’t believe that the government will be successful with this initiative. NIH has a small R&D budget relative to private companies in the drug and biotech industries. It is also unclear how the funds will be spent. We should be reducing government spending, not increasing it.”