President Obama has the mind and his money and his money on the mind.
Today Obama unveiled a $100 million human brain research initiative — set to launch in 2014 — that hopes to further understand brain disorders including PTSD. The initiative, appropriately baptized as BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), will use new technologies to map the brain in order to see how it processes information and how it is linked to behavior.
This is a big step for science as well as the Obama administration as it could make a significant indent in the president’s legacy.
As humans, we have been able to look at the stars and identify the complexities of galaxies, we’ve looked inside microscopes to studied the minute particles that make up the atom and yet, the three pounds of matter that sits on our shoulders is still a thing of mystery. In the words of MIT neuroscientist Ed Boyden, “You really need to be able to break things into small parts in order to understand how they work. And for the brain we haven’t done that yet…we don’t even know how many different cells there are in the brain much less how they are connected.” This is exactly what this research is set to do.
“Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury and PTSD for our wounded veterans coming home,” Obama said at an event unveiling the initiative at the White House. He also pointed to the initiative as a major step toward finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism.
This research will involve the participation from government agencies as well as privately funded organizations including: the National Institute of Health, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Allen institute for Brain Science, The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk institute for Biological Studies.
This may seem like a completely revolutionary step for science, but America might be a few steps behind other world forerunners. The European Union, for example, has a similar initiative running called The Human Brain Project, funded with 1 billion Euros. Although it’s only a few months old, it was born significantly earlier than the U.S.’ BRAIN.
Trumping both the U.S and Europe in brainy research is none other than China. China already sponsors initiatives such as Brainnetome and holds ties to the U.S based Organization for Human Brain Mapping, which held its 2012 annual meeting in Beijing.
But what does this mean for the United States? This isn’t just about whatever is locked inside our skulls, it’s also about the economy and what it could do for Obama’s long-term legacy. Aside from obvious health benefits, Obama said the project will eventually create jobs and drive economic growth. He cited the Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, as proof, claiming it had paid $141 for every dollar invested. This may be a historic step for our second term president. Although Republicans have generally opposed new federal spending programs, its particularly difficult to oppose those that support medical research given its popularity and impact. This means Obama may actually be able to get his way.