One of the most important challenges of modern medicine, and science in general, is the human brain. With nearly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, the human brain is a perfect but very complex machine. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and traumatic brain injuries are some of the pathologies that considerably alter the functioning of this perfect machine.
With the aim of uniting the forces of the scientific community in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases, the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative was born. This initiative aspire, as its own protagonists claim, to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.
What is the BRAIN initiative?
Announced in 2013 by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, the BRAIN initiative could do for the neurosciences what the human genome project has done for genomics. We have to remember that it has not only deciphered the human genome, but has also provided a resource to the world that details the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes.
This initiative wants, for the first time, to spur the development of new technologies that will allow to reveal decisive information on the billions of neurons present in the human brain. A complete, or nearly complete, understanding of the dynamics of neural functions would help researchers to discover the mysteries of brain disorders.
The creators of the initiative hope to be able to produce dynamic images of the brain. These images will show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought. These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves huge amounts of information and sheds light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.
How will they accomplish this?
The most important thing is the organization. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was the master. The NIH has set up an Advisory Committee working group with the director of the NIH (ACD) to help shape this new initiative.
This working group, led by neuroscientists Cornelia Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and William Newsome (Stanford University), articulated the scientific objectives of this initiative and developed a 12-year research strategy to achieve these goals, including timetables, stages and cost estimates.
“The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works – or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur… This is just the beginning of a 12-year journey and we’re excited to be starting the ride.”
~NIH Director Francis S. Collins, 2013 Announcement of the BRAIN Initiative
US government agencies, including NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) are working with private partners they also commit to ensuring success through investments in the BRAIN initiative. In addition, dozens of leading technology companies, academic institutions, scientists and other leading neuroscience collaborators have made significant commitments to move the initiative forward.