Obama’s research boost welcomed by US universities

US president Barack Obama’s announcement that $100 million (£66 million) is to be invested in an initiative to map the human brain has been welcomed by the country’s higher education institutions.

April 3, 2013

The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (Brain) project will aim to help researchers investigate new ways to cure and prevent brain disorders such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injury, and will fund both private and public sector scientists.

“There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the Brain initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember,” Mr Obama said, launching the initiative at the White House on 2 April. “That knowledge could be - will be - transformative.”

The project will begin next year, and will involve the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

According to a White House statement, it 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”.

“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,” it adds.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which has 217 member institutions from all 50 US states, said the project would “open the door for limitless discoveries and innovations” that will save lives.

“There are two extraordinary things about today’s announcement. [The] first is the actual project and all of the potential it holds and [the] second is that President Obama demonstrated his willingness to back new, major investments in research at a time when so many other parts of our budget are facing cuts.

“The president spoke in a compelling fashion about why even in the midst of periods of austerity, there are parts of the budget, such as research, that need to be sustained and grown in order to ensure a vibrant economy that meets its people’s needs,” he said.

In his State of the Union address in February, President Obama said that the US would have to invest in the “best ideas”, pointing out that every dollar invested to map the human genome “returned $140 to our economy”.

“Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” he said at the time.

Paul Alivisatos, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, a government research laboratory located at University of California, Berkley, said: “The Brain activity map is a very promising project for developing revolutionary new tools to advance neuroscience and to enable improved understanding of neurological diseases. It is exciting that the nation will lean forward to make progress in this important area.”

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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