Obama seeks funds to speed neurological research

the brain

President Barack Obama took the wraps off a key science and technology initiative contained in his fiscal year 2014 budget request, an ambitious $100 million-plus effort to accelerate neurological research. Dubbed Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, the effort will include new research projects from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Obama announced the project on April 2.

The project's goal is to create technology and tools to map brain functions, with an eye to developing treatments and cures for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and assisting in the recovery of traumatic brain injuries. Obama called it, "the next great American project," and compared it to the efforts to map the human genome and NASA's efforts to reach the moon.

Obama also cast the effort in economic terms, arguing as he did in his 2013 State of the Union that the Human Genome Project yielded $140 in economic activity for every single dollar of government investment, and that technological tools like the Internet and GPS got their start as government research projects.

In the new budget, NIH Institutes and Centers will put $50 million toward the multidisciplinary effort in FY 2014, which brings together nanoscience, engineering and neurology. DARPA will put $50 million toward research into applications that help diagnose and treat brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and other disorders related to combat. The National Science Foundation will budget $20 million to the development of "molecular scale" sensors to track neural activity. The NSF piece also includes an explicit IT goal – to develop big data applications that can make sense of the massive amounts of information yielded by the study of neural networks.

The government effort will be complemented with private sector research. Funders include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavil Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. According to a White House fact sheet, private sources have committed at least $122 million annually toward the effort.

Obama is expected to submit his full FY 2014 budget request to Congress when they return from recess next week. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said in a statement, "Mapping the human brain is exactly the kind 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."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 12, 2013 Richard

The person who thinks this project is “pie-in-the-sky” is wrong on all counts save the budget being decades away from being under control. One only needs to look at the huge number of new technologies that came from going to the moon to see that lofty goals requiring innovative solutions often pay big dividends in the long run. Since American business tends to look only as far as the next quarterly numbers, they don’t tend to think in terms of the long term. Only government thinks long term because it does not have to make a profit this quarter. We could have more efficient government if Congress would not make the process of funding and dealing with Federal agencies such a burden, but that does not appear to be on the horizon.

Mon, Apr 8, 2013

Sounds like another pie-in-the-sky project to waste taxpayer dollars. They should forget about things like this until they get the budget under cntrol which, admittedly, is likely decades away. The idea that this spending generates additional economic activity is bogus. If this money was left to the taxpayers, it would generate about the same amount of economic activity, if not more (more likely) because of the Government's inefficiency. So whenever I hear that economic activity excuse for added spending, it makes the program look more like Government waste to me.

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