by Susanne Posel
The National Institutes of Health has allocated $46 million “to support the goals of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.”
•Lawrence Livermore Laboratory was given $1.2 million
•Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was awarded 7 separate grants totaling $4.5 million
•University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic received close to $5 million “for basic neuroscience, generate ways to classify and analyze the brain’s 86 billion cells and trillions of connections, and create new ways to record brain circuits, among other goals”
Other grants were given to “develop systems that use lasers to control the activity of individual cells and circuits in the brain”, differentiate “cell types in brain circuits involved in vision and other sensations”, and use fMRI technology to “show the activity of individual brain cells”.
Along with the distribution of money, the National Photonics Initiative (NPI) created the Photonics Industry Neuroscience Group (PING) to work with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and BRAIN to involve private industry organizations and investment potentials initially committing $30 million in existing and future research and development spending over the next three years to advance optics and photonics technology.
Francis Collins, director of the NIH explained : “The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works — or, unfortunately, doesn’t quite work when disorders and disease occur. There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible. These initial awards are part of a 12-year scientific plan focused on developing the tools and technologies needed to make the next leap in understanding the brain. This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited about the possibilities.”
The majority of the money is going toward the furtherance of technology designed to:
•classifying the myriad cell types in the brain
•producing tools and techniques for analyzing brain cells and circuits
•creating next-generation human brain imaging technology
•developing methods for large-scale recordings of brain activity
•integrating experiments with theories and models to understand the functions of specific brain circuits
Back in 2013, President Obama devoted $100 million to the BRAIN initiative; made up of:
• Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HMMI)
• Kavil Foundation (KF)
• Salk Institute for Biological Studies (SIBS)
• Rockefeller University
• Stanford University
• Allen Institute
• Cornell University
• University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
The initial goal of BRAIN was to goal : “Imagine if no family had to feel helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of Parkinson’s or struggle in the grip of epilepsy. Imagine if we could reverse traumatic brain injury or PTSD for our veterans who are coming home. Imagine if someone with a prosthetic limb can now play the piano or throw a baseball as well as anybody else, because the wiring from the brain to that prosthetic is direct and triggered by what’s already happening in the patient’s mind. What if computers could respond to our thoughts or our language barriers could come tumbling down. Or if millions of Americans were suddenly finding new jobs in these fields — jobs we haven’t even dreamt up yet — because we chose to invest in this project.”
Since the creation and implementation of BRAIN, scientists and researchers have made startling discoveries such as:
•Neuroscientists at Cornell University (CU) publishing a paper claiming to have cracked the “code” used by the human brain that controlled how experiences are processed – as either objective or subjective events.
•Researchers from George Washington University (GWU) published a study claiming to have discovered the “on/off” switch inside the human brain where “consciousness” or “sentience” is located, which can be electronically turned on or off completely.
•DARPA releasing information on their new program Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) that will place an implant into the brain of participating patients to wirelessly monitor activity in real-time to facilitate treatments for mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression.
•Robert Coghill, professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist (WFB) lead a study to explain how pain is registered differently within the general population.
•The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a new department called the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines (CBMM) for researchers to study what constitutes intelligence and how humans are artificially engineer it.
•MIT scientists have developed a technique to implant false memories into the minds of laboratory rats.
In the NIH report entitled “BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision”, it is the future of neuroscience to advance to the level where the US government “can envision a comprehensive understanding of the brain in action, spanning molecules, cells, circuits, systems, and behavior.”
The priorities of the report include:
•Discovering diversity: Identify and provide experimental access to the different brain cell types to determine their roles in health and disease.
•Maps at multiple scales: Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
•The brain in action: Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.
•Demonstrating causality: Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
•Identifying fundamental principles: Produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.
•Advancing human neuroscience: Develop innovative technologies to understand the human brain and treat its disorders; create and support integrated human brain research networks.
•From BRAIN Initiative to the brain: Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in Goals #1-6 to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.