BRAIN stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. It is a public-private initiative for the development of new technology that can map the brain to gain greater insight on how we think, learn and remember and to better understand and treat diseases ranging from autism to schizophrenia.
Like data from the Human Genome Project, data from the brain mapping initiative would inform both laboratory research and clinical care, and ultimately lead to better and more personal and predictive care. This emerging field, aimed at revolutionizing health care, is called precision medicine.
The concept for the Brain Activity Mapping project began two years ago with a group of six scientists: A. Paul Alivisatos; Miyoung Chun, George M. Church; Ralph J. Greenspan; Michael L. Roukes and Rafael Yuste. They published their concept in Neuron, “The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics” in June 2012.
Philip Sabes, PhD, an associate professor of physiology at UCSF, said the brain mapping project consists of three main goals: “to develop techniques for recording or imaging large-scale patterns of activity in the brain, to develop new computational and theoretical tools to understand these patterns, and to develop tools for manipulating these activity patterns, both to causally test the models that emerge from the project and to repair dysfunctional brain circuits. These goals address the central outstanding challenges in systems neuroscience, and it is fantastic that President Obama is launching an initiative to accomplish them.”
Brain scientists unconnected with the project were enthusiastic.
"This is spectacular," said David Fitzpatrick, scientific director and CEO of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter, Fla., 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.
"Ultimately, you can't fix it if you don't know how it works," he said. "We need this fundamental understanding of neuronal circuits, their structure, their function and their development in order to make progress on these disorders."
"This investment in fundamental brain science is going to pay off immensely in the future," Fitzpatrick said.
Richard Frackowiak, a co-director of Europe's Human Brain Project, which is funded by the European Commission, said he was delighted by the announcement.
"The opportunities ... to solve the problem of neurodegeneration and psychiatric disease will ... really become absolutely feasible," he said. "We need that."
Sources: AP, UCSF.edu
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