Viewpoint Offers Details of BRAIN Initiative

JAMA Neurology is publishing online a Viewpoint written by Cornelia I. Bargmann, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, New York, and William T. Newsome, Ph.D., of Stanford University, California, who are neuroscientists and co-chairs of the working group of the advisory committee to the National Institutes of Health director responsible for planning the scientific program of the BRAIN Initiative.

Excerpts of the article are highlighted below:

“On April 2, 2013, President Obama announced the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a partnership between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, private foundations and researchers.”

“Improvements in technology benefit all scientists, so a technology emphasis will increase the value and impact of the BRAIN initiative for a large research community.”

“The scientific question at the heart of the BRAIN Initiative is how rapidly fluctuating chemical and electrical activity flows through stable anatomical circuits to generate cognition and behavior.”

“Even the simplest perceptual task involves the activity of millions of neurons distributed across many brain regions. How simple percepts arise from patterned neural activity and how the resulting percepts are linked to emotion, motivation, and action are deeply mysterious. In the past, answers to these questions seemed out of reach.”

“The BRAIN Initiative should identify all cell types in the brain, define their connections both locally and across regions, develop methods for even larger-scale recordings of neuronal activity during behavior, develop more powerful perturbation methods that can be performed noninvasively, and advance computational methods for understanding the meaning of patterned neuronal activity.”

“Importantly, the ultimate goal of the BRAIN Initiative is to understand the human brain, so these goals must all be pursued in humans as well as nonhuman animals from the outset and not sequentially.”

“The BRAIN Initiative must not make false promises or raise false hopes, but scientific understanding will shed light on disease processes and in some cases will suggest new therapeutic approaches. The BRAIN Initiative is playing for this long game.”

“The BRAIN Initiative focuses on basic science, but its goals are to provide a foundation for translational neuroscience as well. It will benefit from the participation of neurologists, and it should provide benefits to neurology in the form of knowledge, technology and infrastructure. Like any scientific approach, it will lead in directions that we do not expect.”

(JAMA Neurol. Published online April 7, 2014. doi:10.1001/.jamaneurol.2014.411.