BRAIN Initiative

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For the different project in Europe, see Human Brain Project.

Understanding how the brain works is arguably one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.

–Alivisatos et al.[1]

The BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, also referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project) is a proposed collaborative research initiative announced by the Obama administration on April 2, 2013, with the goal of mapping the activity of every neuron in the human brain.[2][3][4][5][6] Based upon the Human Genome Project, the initiative has been projected to cost more than $300 million per year for ten years.[2]


NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and President Barack Obama announcing the BRAIN Initiative

In September 2011, molecular biologist Miyoung Chun of The Kavli Foundation organized a conference in London, at which scientists first put forth the idea of such a project.[4][7] At subsequent meetings, scientists from US government laboratories, including members of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, along with representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, worked on further plans for the project.[2]

In a news conference on April 2, 2013, President Obama announced that he would seek an initial expenditure of $100 million for fiscal year 2014.[4][5][6] House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that he would be likely to support the expenditure.[5] Additional support will be provided by the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.[6] The White House announced that a detailed plan would be formulated by the end of the summer by a working group from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation, led by neuroscientists Cornelia Bargmann and William Newsome.[4][5][6]

Experimental approaches[edit]

News reports said the research would map the dynamics of neuron activity in mice and other animals[3] and eventually the tens of billions of neurons in the human brain.[8]

In a 2012 scientific commentary outlining experimental plans for a more limited project, Alivisatos et al. outlined a variety of specific experimental techniques that might be used to achieve what they termed a "functional connectome", as well as new technologies that will have to be developed in the course of the project.[1] They indicated that initial studies might be done in Caenorhabditis elegans, followed by Drosophila, because of their comparatively simple neural circuits. Mid-term studies could be done in zebrafish, mice, and the Etruscan shrew, with studies ultimately to be done in primates and humans. They proposed the development of nanoparticles that could be used as voltage sensors that would detect individual action potentials, as well as nanoprobes that could serve as electrophysiological multielectrode arrays. In particular, they called for the use of wireless, noninvasive methods of neuronal activity detection, either utilizing microelectronic very-large-scale integration, or based on synthetic biology rather than microelectronics. In one such proposed method, enzymatically produced DNA would serve as a "ticker tape record" of neuronal activity,[1][9] based on calcium ion-induced errors in coding by DNA polymerase.[10] Data would be analyzed and modeled by large scale computation.[1] A related technique proposed the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing for rapidly mapping neural connectivity.[11]

Working group[edit]

The advisory committee is:[12]


Scientists offered differing views of the plan. Neuroscientist John Donoghue said that the project would fill a gap in neuroscience research between, on the one hand, activity measurements at the level of brain regions using methods such as fMRI, and, on the other hand, measurements at the level of single cells.[3] Psychologist Ed Vul expressed concern, however, that the initiative would divert funding from individual investigator studies.[3] Neuroscientist Donald Stein expressed concern that it would be a mistake to begin by spending money on technological methods, before knowing exactly what would be measured.[4] Physicist Michael Roukes argued instead that methods in nanotechnology are becoming sufficiently mature to make the time right for a brain activity map.[4]

The projects face great logistical challenges. Neuroscientists estimated that the project would generate 300 exabytes of data every year, presenting a significant technical barrier.[13] Most of the available high-resolution brain activity monitors are of limited use, as they must be invasively implanted surgically by opening the skull.[13] Parallels have been drawn to past large-scale government-led research efforts including the map of the human genome, the voyage to the moon, and the development of the atomic bomb.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Alivisatos, A. Paul; Chun, Miyoung; Church, George M.; Greenspan, Ralph J.; Roukes, Michael L.; Yuste, Rafael (June 2012). "The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics". Neuron 74 (6): 970–974. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.006. PMID 22726828. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Markoff, John (February 18, 2013). "Obama Seeking to Boost Study of Human Brain". New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d Szalavitz, Maia (February 19, 2013). "Brain Map: President Obama Proposes First Detailed Guide of Human Brain Function". Time. Retrieved February 19, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Markoff, John; Gorman, James (April 2, 2013). "Obama to unveil initiative to map the human brain". New York Times. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Fox, Maggie (April 2, 2013). "White House pitches brain mapping project". NBC News. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Fact Sheet: BRAIN Initiative". White House Office of the Press Secretary. April 2, 2013. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  7. ^ Johnson, Carolyn (April 5, 2013). "Local Scientists on Brain Mapping Dream Team Reflect on Challenges, Opportunity". Boston Globe. Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  8. ^ Human brains average 86 billion neurons by a recent estimate. Source: How many neurons make a human brain? Billions fewer than we thought. Notes & Theories. The Guardian. Feb 28, 2012.
  9. ^ Kording, Konrad (December 2011). "Of Toasters and Molecular Ticker Tapes". PLOS Computational Biology 7 (12). doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002291. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  10. ^ Zamft, Bradley Michael; Marblestone, Adam H.; Kording, Konrad; Schmidt, Daniel; Martin-Alarcon, Daniel; Tyo, Keith; Boyden, Edward S.; Church, George (August 2012). "Measuring Cation Dependent DNA Polymerase Fidelity Landscapes by Deep Sequencing". PLOS ONE 7 (8): e43876. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043876. PMID 22928047. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  11. ^ Zador, Anthony M.; Dubnau, Joshua; Oyibo, Hassana K.; Zhan, Huiqing; Cao, Gang; Peikon, Ian D. (2012). "Sequencing the Connectome". PLoS Biology 10 (10): e1001411. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001411. PMC 3479097. PMID 23109909. 
  12. ^ "Advisory Committee to the Director". Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Working Group. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  13. ^ a b Markoff, John (February 26, 2013). "Connecting the Neural Dots". New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 

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