The government has recently launched a new research program to understand the human mind known as the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). The research initiative represents a renewed effort to study how the brain functions and create a visual map. The research will also focus on discovering the sources of neurological conditions including addiction, dementia, depression, epilepsy and many others in the hopes of resolving them one day in the future.
While the formal practical goals of BRAIN are to better understand how we think, learn and remember, the bigger picture of the project is to solve questions regarding disorders associated with the brain. The president asked the Bioethics Commission to be involved in the project so that the investigation methods and protocols are consistent with sound ethical principles and practices.
Developing A Map Of The Human Brain
The BRAIN initiative is part of an undertaking by neurologists to begin to understand and measure how almost 100 billion neurons make trillions of connections in our brain circuits. The technical aspects of the project will involve studying how circuits made up of hundreds of thousands of neurons conduct all the activities that they manage including voluntary motion, visual processing, and the ability to create a memory and retrieve it. It is essentially a study of the brain and how human beings are able to use it for important processes like thinking, learning and remembering.
This kind of research will ultimately be used with the goal of developing a kind of brain activity map or dynamic picture of the brain in action that would provide a clearer understanding of how the brain works. The more ambitious implication of this map is the possibility of gaining insight into neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and even addiction. With the government funding for this project, neurologists could create a more comprehensive map of the brain that would help identify the sources and potential solutions to a number of neurological disorders.
The Government Spearheading Research Efforts
President Obama is investing more than $100 million in this project so that scientists can develop the technology to map the human brain. To help complete the goals of the project, the initiative will direct $50 million to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, $40 million to the National Institutes of Health and $20 million to the National Science Foundation. In addition to the funding provided by the government, several private sector foundations and institutes have also pledged contributions to the project with their own specific goals in mind.
The BRAIN initiative is thought by some to be a very ambitious undertaking similar to that of the Human Genome Project, another government initiative that focused on determining the sequence of chemical base pairs that make up human DNA and mapping all of the genes in the human genome. The Human Genome Project, however, had only one main objective while the BRAIN initiative focuses not only on the mapping of the brain but also broader goals such as a better understanding of disorders associated with brain functioning.
The government will ensure through the Bioethics Commission that all of the research involved in the BRAIN initiative will follow ethical rules and standards. The project will work to create necessary breakthroughs in the treatment, repair and prevention of issues like autism, addiction, and a number of other disorders.
The government funding is provided to help accelerate the kinds of discoveries that can help prevent many types of illnesses before they occur. The project could potentially revolutionize the way scientists study the brain and provide important insights into prevention and treatment for people suffering from mental health issues and neurological disease.