WASHINGTON, April 2 (RIA Novosti) – US President Barack Obama unveiled a bold project Tuesday to map the human brain, saying it could help treat brain disorders, create millions of jobs, improve billions of lives, and put Americans at the forefront of cutting-edge scientific research.
The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative would draw back the curtain on “a great mystery waiting to be unlocked,” the workings of the human brain, Obama said at the White House launch of the project.
In the budget he sends to Congress next week, Obama will propose more than $100 million in funding for BRAIN in its first year. The money would go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Federation (NSF) to get the initiative up and running.
“Starting with $100 million, we think we can do a lot,” NIH head Francis Collins said, welcoming BRAIN as an “audacious” project.
The NIH has put together a “dream team” of 15 US neuroscientists, headed by Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, to lead BRAIN, Collins said.
The White House Bioethics Commission will ensure that BRAIN research is conducted to the highest ethical standards, Obama said.
“Think what we could do once we crack this code,” Obama added as he outlined a vision of a future shaped by BRAIN research.
Families would no longer have to watch helplessly as a loved one is ravaged by Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, he said. The signature illnesses affecting veterans of wars, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, could be reversed and possibly prevented. Scientists might discover a way to directly wire prosthetic limbs to a person’s brain.
“Computers could respond to thoughts, language barriers could come tumbling down. What if millions of jobs were created in this new field? That’s the future we imagine,” Obama said.
“But it requires a serious, sustained effort, and us, as a country, to embody and embrace the spirit of discovery that made America, America,” Obama said, warning that BRAIN could falter before it gets out of the starting block, as sweeping budget cuts take hold across the United States.
Obama said scientists have expressed concern that “these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that have gone into place are so severe, so poorly designed that they will hold back a generation of young scientists.”
The United States has already slipped behind many European and Asian countries in rankings of academic achievement, especially in math and science.
A study conducted in 2009 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the United States ranked 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics out of 34 OECD countries. Updated rankings are due to be released this year.
Obama urged Americans to embrace BRAIN, noting that it would be just one of many projects, including Google, the Internet, and GPS navigators that started, at least partially, with government funding and went on to positively impact lives.
“If we keep investing in the most prominent, promising solutions to our toughest problems, then things will get better,” he said.