June 11, 2014

US Brain Initiative Seeks $4.5 Billion

Tiffany Trader

Additional details have come to light on the brain research initiative, announced last year by President Obama. A working group of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a ten-year plan – Brain 2025: A Scientific Vision – for the agency’s portion of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. The plan’s recommended budget would quadruple the current allocation, providing a $4.5 billion investment over 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2016. The project, which aims to map all activity in the human brain, was initially given a $1 billion budget to be spent over 12 years.

The blueprint outlines specifics regarding NIH’s contribution to the major neuroscience initiative. Obama cited an initial investment of $100 million when he announced the project in April 2013. The NIH advisory working group report recommends $400 million in funding for the National Institutes of Health for each of the next five years, then $500 million annually for the five years after that.

“Our budget estimates, while provisional, are informed by the costs of real neuroscience at this technological level,” the report said. “While we did not conduct a detailed cost analysis, we considered the scope of the questions to be addressed by the initiative, and the cost of programs that have developed in related areas over recent years.”

As for the scope of research, the report’s authors summarize the nature of the work thusly:

“The BRAIN Initiative will deliver transformative scientific tools and methods that should accelerate all of basic neuroscience, translational neuroscience, and direct disease studies, as well as disciplines beyond neuroscience. It will deliver a foundation of knowledge about the function of the brain, its cellular components, the wiring of its circuits, its patterns of electrical activity at local and global scales, the causes and effects of those activity patterns, and the expression of brain activity in behavior. Through the interaction of experiment and theory, the BRAIN Initiative should elucidate the computational logic as well as the specific mechanisms of brain function at different spatial and temporal scales, defining the connections between molecules, neurons, circuits, activity, and behavior.”

If the recommendations are granted, funding for the US project will far surpass the amount currently allotted to Europe’s big neuroscience project, the Human Brain Project, which seeks to reproduce the brain in computer form. That project was awarded 1 billion Euros (US $1.3 billion) over 10 years.

In March, program officials from both camps revealed that the US and European research programs would be joining forces, but to what extent they will collaborate is still not clear. Coordination will begin later this year when representatives meet to lay out a strategy for collaboration and data sharing.

US officials have compared the BRAIN initiative with the Human Genome Project, which had a similarly high price tag. The 10-year project that resulted in the first human genome being sequenced in 2003 cost $3 billion.

“How the brain works and gives rise to our mental and intellectual lives will be the most exciting and challenging area of science in the 21st century,” said Francis Collins, NIH director. “As a result of this concerted effort, new technologies will be invented, new industries spawned, and new treatments and even cures discovered for devastating disorders and diseases of the brain and nervous system.”

The NIH is expected to award its first BRAIN grants in September. The BRAIN Initiative is jointly led by NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and Food and Drug Administration.

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