President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative Could Help Answer the ‘Hard Questions’ of Neuroscience

Photo of Jed Hartings, PhD, by Cindy Starr & Tonya Hines / Mayfield Clinic.
Photo of Jed Hartings, PhD, by Cindy Starr & Tonya Hines / Mayfield Clinic.

By Jed Hartings, PhD

President Obama’s Brain Activity Map project is a visionary proposal to understand the workings of the human brain’s 100 billion neurons and their connections to each other. Although the project is unlikely to be accomplished with the initial $100 million allocation, to me the initiative has parallels to the Human Genome Project and the Moonshot and could spark some revolutionary breakthroughs in neuroscience.

The Brain Activity Map project, officially known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN, is not just a push to study one disease. Details are still unfolding, but it appears to have a much broader objective of understanding how the healthy brain works: how neurons are connected to give rise to the myriad complexities of human behavior and cognition. Brain mapping is determining how circuits in the brain are connected and how patterns of activity – in space and time — translate to brain function. This initiative could therefore provide a framework and knowledge base that would benefit our understanding of all brain diseases. And beyond that, it may enable us to address questions we can only begin to imagine – maybe in areas as far-reaching as philosophy.