Obama's BRAIN Initiative takes aim at Alzheimer's, Parkinson's

The Obama Administration's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, first alluded to in the president's State of the Union Address in February, officially was launched by the White House this morning. In a press conference touting the announcement, Obama called the knowledge that potentially could be gained through the project's efforts "transformative."

"As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away … but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears," Obama said. "The most powerful computer in the world isn't nearly as intuitive as the one we're born with."

Three organizations--the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency--will provide approximately $100 million in funding for the initiative beginning in FY 2014, according to a White House announcement. Additionally, according to the announcement, NIH will establish an academic working group to "define detailed scientific goals" of the program, as well as to create a "multi-year scientific plan" for the program.

"It's terrific to have the President's Commission on Bioethics engaged," Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said during a video Q&A. "We, as a society, have tried to start asking the questions before the technology is rolled out."

After Obama's first mention of the project in February, the New York Times compared it to the Human Genome Project. Advances in artificial intelligence and increased understanding of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, among other illnesses, are among the goals set for the BRAIN Initiative.

An infographic created by the White House says that possible long-term outcomes of the project include "reduced language barriers through technological advances in how computers interface with human though," solutions for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and job creation.

Comparatively, the Human Genome Project, which originally cost $3.8 billion, returned nearly $800 billion in federal impact by 2010, according to the infographic.

To learn more:
- read the announcement from the White House
- check out the infographic

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