Obama Unveils Details on Brain-Mapping Initiative

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The White House unveiled details Tuesday on a new initiative to study the human brain with the goal of treating or curing Alzheimer's disease and other disorders.

Called the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the program is to be funded with $100 million from President Barack Obama's fiscal 2014 budget. The White House is slated to release Obama's budget next week.

"The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought," the White House said in a statement.

"These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior."

Obama previously mentioned the idea in his State of the Union address, comparing the potential to the Human Genome Project that mapped DNA.

"Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Every dollar," Obama said in the address to Congress in February. "Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's."

Obama wants the research to involve private institutions as well as government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. It will require the development of new technology that can record the electrical activity of more neurons in the brain and a study of the ethical implications of the advancements.

Experts applauded Obama's initiative. 

“The Society for Neuroscience is encouraged and appreciative that the Obama administration recognizes brain science as one of the great scientific challenges of our time," said Larry Swanson, the president of the Society for Neuroscience, in a news release Tuesday. Swanson attended the announcement at the White House.

"Today’s announcement and first investment will enable the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies to develop initial tools and conduct further planning that will help accelerate fundamental discoveries and improve the health and quality of life for more than one billion people worldwide estimated to be suffering from the more than 1,000 brain diseases and disorders," Swanson added.

Guy Eakin, vice president of Scientific Affairs at the BrightFocus Foundation, said "understanding the human brain may be the human brain's greatest challenge. ...This is an aggressive vision to build the infrastructure that will allow doctors to one day not just treat, but eliminate diseases of mind, of sight, and a host of other neurological conditions.”

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