OBAMA ASKS CONGRESS FOR 'BRAIN INITIATIVE' / PROS & CONS ON THIS $100-M INITIATIVE


Effort may help understanding of diseases affecting 100 million Americans that cost $500 billion each year [Reuters]

WASHINGTON, APRIL 8, 2013 (ALJASEERA.COM) "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." - Barack Obama.

Project aims to find cures for epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's by mapping human brain.

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

He asked Congress on Tuesday 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.

The amount 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.

He asked Congress on Tuesday 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.

The amount 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.''

'Pretty good start'

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 Defense 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.

"The effort should allow researchers to understand such complex diseases as epilepsy, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury and a long list of conditions "that collectively affect 100 million Americans and cost us $500 billion each year in terms of healthcare costs."

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. "New understandings about how the brain works may also provide leads for developing better computers" Collins added.

PHNO BLOG WATCH

MAPPING THE BRAIN
FEATURED AUTHOR:
DAVID FRUM- http://www.thedailybeast.com/davidfrum.html

Thoughts on the BRAIN Initiative by Ilana GlazerApr 3, 2013 12:45 PM EDT

The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, a project President Obama discussed in his most recent State of the Union, was formally announced yesterday at the White House. Using the $3.8 billion Human Genome Project as a success case, the White House outlined their plan for BRAIN, citing that this project will spark innovation and create jobs in a number of business sectors.

The BRAIN Initiative is launching with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Foundations and private research institutions are also investing in the neuroscience that will advance the BRAIN Initiative.

The Allen Institute for Brain Science, for example, will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to this initiative. The Kavli Foundation plans to support BRAIN Initiative-related activities with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next ten years. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will also dedicate research funding for projects that support the BRAIN Initiative.

There has been a large and mostly welcoming response to the proposed plan.

The New York Times’ Editorial Board applauded the BRAIN Initiative, and stated that even more can be done.

[A] modest but welcome start for an effort that could transform our understanding of how the brain works and help researchers find new ways to treat and prevent brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s...

Some researchers think a higher level of financing — perhaps $300 million in federal support annually — will be needed over the next decade to make substantial progress. For now, Mr. Obama’s challenge to the nation’s research community to get started is a big leap forward.

The Economic Times focused on BRAIN’s potential global economic benefits.

President Barack Obama said he wanted the next job-creating discoveries to happen in the US and not in India or China.

"We can't afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead. We have to seize them. I don't want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here," Obama said.

Even Newt Gingrich, a longtime critic of President Obama, welcomes the plan.

“President Obama is taking a very important step toward the most dramatic breakthroughs in human health,” Gingrich said in a statement. ”Brain research is vital for Autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, mental health, and a host of other concerns...”

“When I was Speaker we balanced the federal budget while doubling the budget for the National Institutes of Health,” Gingrich continued. “We should have increased the National Science Foundation budget at the same time. One of the keys to brain research is better computation and better storage systems. President Obama deserves credit for taking an important step in the right direction.”

More surprising, the current House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, praised the initiative.

[Cantor] took advantage of the opportunity to announce the House of Representative’s own plan to fund additional research on the brain. He unveiled the Kids First Research Act, a proposal not yet introduced on the House floor. Cantor said in a statement:

“Mapping the human brain is exactly the type of research we should be funding, by reprioritizing the $250 million we currently spend on political and social science research into expanded medical research, including the expedited mapping of the human brain. It’s great science.”

Of course, there have also been some questioning the project.

Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize–winning neuropsychiatrist at Columbia University, is in favor of the program, saying it is in excellent hands, but questions the goal of the program.

The cost of the Human Genome Project, $3.8 billion, far exceeded the initial round of funding for the BRAIN initiative. And Kandel said the goal of the Genome Project, to map all genes in human DNA, was much clearer than BRAIN.

“We knew the endpoint,” Kandel said. “But here, we don’t know what the goal is. What does it mean to understand the human mind? When will we be satisfied? This is much, much more ambitious.”

Then there are some who are simply flat out against the idea. Tim Cavanaugh, Executive Editor of the Daily Caller, had some choice words about the BRAIN initiative.

The BRAIN initiative would most likely allow Washington to swoop in and take credit for high-level research that’s already going on. In his comments Tuesday, Obama continued the hard-to-substantiate “job-creating” theme from his SOTU address..

Considering the highly unpopular results of the administration’s economic stimulus efforts, you might expect the president to soft-pedal such airy claims about centrally planned fiscal boosts. Unfortunately, Obama seems wedded to the myth of spending multipliers that get more outlandish with each retelling.

[P]ublic money dumps like this are damaging… they take our eye off the actual causes of both economic sluggishness and research obstacles. “Why doesn’t he support reducing taxes and regulations so that private sector companies (existing and startups) can flourish and undertake the type of R&D which is very expensive into brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s?”

Pacific Research Institute president Sally Pipes said in an email to The Daily Caller. “I don’t believe that the government will be successful with this initiative. NIH has a small R&D budget relative to private companies in the drug and biotech industries. It is also unclear how the funds will be spent. We should be reducing government spending, not increasing it.”

THE AUTHOR: David Frum

David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of eight books, including most recently the e-book WHY ROMNEY LOST and his first novel Patriots, published in April 2012.

 


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