Mapping out an international brain research initiative

brain imaging

Meetings on an International Brain Initiative created excitement about further exploration of the workings of the brain, but attendees were concerned about how to marry the effort with existing projects and allocate resources.

It's not clear how the initiative will be funded or which U.S. agency will spearhead the work, according to an article at Nature. Two recent meetings--one associated with the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York City and a second hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation at Rockefeller University--raised a number of issues.

The Obama Administration launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in 2013, taking a page from the Human Genome Project. The National Institutes of Health awarded grants worth $85 million in fiscal year 2015 for brain research.

The BRAIN Initiative is just one of the ongoing brain research projects under way globally, including the European Union’s Human Brain Project (HBP) and Canada’s 9-year-old CBRAIN initiative, which serves as a clearinghouse and provides tools and processing power to handle large neuroimaging datasets for researchers in 22 countries and the HBP.

Reaching the research goals will require innovative but standardized new technologies, including nanotechnology and genetics. Various tools built in-house now make it difficult to collaborate and exchange information between organizations, according to the article.

One proposed solution: Create of an International Brain Observatory where scientists could share powerful microscopes and supercomputing resources, much the way astronomy researchers share telescopes.

Another proposal would create a virtual International Brain Station that could automatically convert human brain scans or animal gene expression data into standardized formats.

Yet attendees expressed concern that this overarching project could siphon off resources for various brain projects worldwide that have different priorities. Others were concerned the new project would overlook existing resources and essentially be reinventing the wheel.