With all the political analysis of President Obama’s State of the Union address by TV’s talking heads, no one paid much attention to a reference he made to brain research. No one, that is, until The New York Times published a Page One story Monday on exactly what the president’s plans are.
Obama was obliquely referring to his administration’s initiative to launch a 10-year study of the brain and develop a map of its activity, according to The Times. It’s a crucial endeavor that could impact every American, since it may reveal information — and ways to treat — scourges such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and mental illness.
The long-term project is expected to cost as much as $3 billion during its term,with the president to seek $300 million a year for it in his budget proposal to Congress, The Times reported. Of course, it remains to be seen if Obama secures the funding.
The Brain Activity Map project will team up federal agencies, foundations and “teams of neurosurgeons and nanoscientists,” the newspaper reported. Among those set to participate are the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, according to The Times.
During his address, Obama compared the brain research project to the Human Genome Project, as did The Times in its story. The goal of the Genome Project was to map all the genes in DNA. It kicked off in 1990 and was completed in 2003, according to The Times. That successful project cost $3.8 billion, but its impact generated $800 billion in economic activity by 2010, The Times reported.
The bottom line that apart from the scientific knowledge the brain research can garner, it likely would also boost the economy. That is a point that Obama stressed during his State of the Union speech.
“Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar,” the president said. “Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”
Scientists seem to agree that mapping the brain’s activity is a taller order than mapping DNA. But The Times said that “new technology that allows scientists to identify firing neurons in the brain” is the tool that nanotechnologists and neuroscientists think makes “it possible to observe and gain a more complete understanding of the brain, and to do it less intrusively.”‘
Read The Times story.