The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Obama announces $100M for brain mapping project that could help Alzheimer's, other diseases

  • Print

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Tuesday proposed an effort to map the brain's activity in unprecedented detail, as a step toward finding better ways to treat such conditions as Alzheimer's, autism, stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

He asked Congress to spend $100 million next year to start a project that will explore details of the brain, which contains 100 billion cells and trillions of connections.

That is a relatively small investment for the federal government — less than a fifth of what NASA spends every year just to study the sun — but it is too early to determine how Congress will react.

Obama said the so-called BRAIN Initiative could create jobs, and told scientists gathered at the White House that the research has the potential to improve the lives of billions of people worldwide.

"As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away," Obama said. "We can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."

Scientists unconnected to the project praised the idea.

BRAIN stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. The idea, which Obama first proposed in his State of the Union address, would require the development of new technology that can record the electrical activity of individual cells and complex neural circuits in the brain "at the speed of thought," the White House said.

Obama wants the initial $100 million investment to support research at the National Institutes of Health, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. He also wants private companies, universities and philanthropists to partner with the federal agencies in support of the research. And he wants a study of the ethical, legal and societal implications of the research.

The goals of the work are unclear at this point. A working group at NIH, co-chaired by Cornelia "Cori" Bargmann of The Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, would work on defining the goals and develop a multi-year plan to achieve them that included cost estimates.

The $100 million request is "a pretty good start for getting this project off the ground," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health told reporters in a conference call. While the ultimate goal applies to the human brain, some work will be done in simpler systems of the brains of animals like worms, flies and mice, he said.

Collins said new understandings about how the brain works may also provide leads for developing better computers.

Brain scientists unconnected with the project were enthusiastic.

"This is spectacular," said David Fitzpatrick, scientific director and chief executive of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, which focuses on studying neural circuits and structures.

While current brain-scanning technologies can reveal the average activity of large populations of brain cells, the new project is aimed at tracking activity down to the individual cell and the tiny details of cell connections, he said. It's "an entirely different scale," he said, and one that can pay off someday in treatments for a long list of neurological and psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, Parkinson's, depression, epilepsy and autism.

___

Ritter reported from New York.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Kevin Cheveldayoff announces Maurice contract extension

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 101130-Winnipeg Free Press Columns of light reach skyward to the stars above Sanford Mb Tuesday night. The effect is produced by streetlights refracting through ice crystals suspended in the air on humid winter nights. Stand Up.....
  • Two Canada geese fly Wednesday afternoon at Oak Hammock Marsh- Front bird is banded for identification- Goose Challenge Day 3- - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the province’s crackdown on flavoured tobacco products?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google