President Obama has unveiled the BRAIN Initiative, which the White House describes as "a bold new research effort to revolutionise our understanding of the human mind".

The BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) aims to uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It is being launched with an initial $100 million investment from the US National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

The White House issued a statement saying that the BRAIN Initiative will "accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought". It adds that "these technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behaviour".

The research will begin next year and the NIH is setting up a "high-level working group…to define detailed scientific goals" and developing a "multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones and cost estimates".

Public/private partnership

As part of the scheme, the US government agencies will team up with companies and institutions that are also investing in relevant neuroscience research. These include the Allen Institute (which will spend at least $60 million annually to support projects related to the initiative), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Pres Obama said that "we can identify galaxies light years away, 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". He added that "there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember".

Making reference to the major cuts forced on the NIH as the result of sequestration law in the USA, Pres Obama said it is important "that we think about basic research generally as a driver of growth and that we replace the across-the-board budget cuts that are threatening to set us back before we even get started".  He added that "a few weeks ago, the directors of some of our national laboratories said that the sequester - these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that have gone into place - are so severe, so poorly designed that they will hold back a generation of young scientists".