President Barack Obama held a live special announcement this morning to discuss his big brain science push.
The gist of the project is that by funding innovative brain science we can figure out how to solve brain-related diseases like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. It will also spur innovation and create entire fields of the workforce we can’t even imagine yet.
What was actually announced today was that more than $100 million in funding for BRAIN-related projects under the National Institutes Of Health, DARPA, and the National Science Foundation, will be included in Obama’s budget that he will be sending to Congress next week.
Other than that, the details are sketchy — there are no defined goals or endpoints in the plan, other than to better understand how our brain cells work and interact.
The NIH group will be led by Cornelia Bargmann of The Rockefeller University, and William Newsome of Stanford University. They will plan out the scientific goals of the initiative and develop a multi-year plan to achieve them, with milestones, timetables, and cost estimates.
“Scientist in Chief”
NIH director Francis Collins introduced the president with a few short remarks about the importance of innovation in American society, calling Obama “scientist in chief,” though the President admitted to having pretty low grades when it came to the harder sciences, like physics.
In his statement, Collins said that “we stand at the edge of another frontier of bio medicine and biological research, and the reality is we can’t afford not to invest in it. The worst thing we can do in challenging economic times is to stifle innovation.”
That innovation is what holds immense potential for new jobs and business opportunities.
Obama said: “Ideas are what power our economy; it’s what sets us apart. We’ve been a community of dreamers and risk-takers. We do innovation better than anybody else. And that makes our economy stronger.”
The BRAIN Initiative
Obama called the BRAIN Initiative (which stands for Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) “the next great American project” — following the huge investment in genetics that was the Human Genome Mapping Project.
“We can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than the atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that lies between our ears,” Obama said.
That matter includes nearly 100 billion brain cells which share 100 trillion connections.
By the numbers
Obama announced that in his fiscal year 2014 budget he will propose funding for the National Institutes Of Health ($40 million), DARPA ($50 million), and the National Science Foundation ($20 million) to help get the project off the ground. He will also direct his bioethics team to take a close look at the ethical implications of the projects, and will partner with companies in the private sector.
- The Allen Institute for Brain Science, which will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to this initiative.
- The Kavli Foundation, which plans to support BRAIN Initiative-related activities with approximately $4 million dollars per year over the next 10 years.
- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has pledged at least $30 million in research funding for projects that support the BRAIN Initiative.
- The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which will dedicate more than $28 million in research funding for projects that support the BRAIN Initiative.
In addition to helping us understand and treat brain-related diseases, Obama hopes the project will also spur a whole new sector of jobs in these fields, most of which we haven’t even dreamt up yet.
“We have the chance to improve the lives of millions of people through this BRAIN initiative alone, but it will require a sustained effort and require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that built us.”
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