$100M research initiative to study brain activity

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama Tuesday proposed a project to map the brain's activity in unprecedented detail in search of better ways to treat such conditions as Alzheimer's, autism, stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

He asked Congress to spend $100 million next year to start a project that will explore details of the brain, which contains 100 billion cells and trillions of connections.

Obama said the so-called BRAIN Initiative could create jobs, and told scientists gathered in the White House the research has the potential to improve the lives of billions of people worldwide.

"As humans, we can identify galaxies light-years away," Obama said. "We can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."

BRAIN stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. The idea, which Obama first proposed during his State of the Union address, would require the development of new technology that can record the electrical activity of individual cells and complex neural circuits in the brain "at the speed of thought," the White House said.

Obama wants the initial $100 million investment to support research at the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. He also wants private companies, universities and philanthropists to partner with the federal agencies in support of the research.

A working group at NIH, co-chaired by Cornelia "Cori" Bargmann of The Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University, would work on defining the goals and develop a multiyear plan to achieve them.

While current brain-scanning technologies can reveal the average activity of large populations of brain cells, the new project is aimed at tracking activity down to the individual cell and the tiny details of cell connections, said David Fitzpatrick, scientific director and chief executive of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter, Fla.

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