5 April 2013
US President Barack Obama has launched a $100m project to map the "enormous mystery" of the human brain. He hopes the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) project will help us understand how the brain works and learn more about diseases such as Alzheimer's.
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The president's advisors call the BRAIN project ambitious, even audacious. It aims to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show, in the words of a White House statement, how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought. Announcing the programme, Barack Obama said humans could identify distant galaxies and study subatomic particles, but still had a limited understanding of the brain.
"There's this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked. 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."
That knowledge, he said, would be transformative: families no longer helpless at the onset of Parkinson's, and war veterans able to reverse the effects of traumatic brain injury. The administration reckons it costs around $500bn a year to treat the various conditions this project hopes to address. It believes that technological advances, in data processing and revolutionary new techniques like optogenetics mean that, for the first time, this hugely ambitious research is actually possible.
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showing extreme confidence and willingness to take risks and offend people
- neural circuits
a system of connected neurons: cells that send and receive messages to and from the brain
- subatomic particles
extremely small pieces of matter that are smaller than atoms or forming part of atoms
a project designed to achieve something or solve a problem
causing significant changes or improvement in a situation
the beginning of something, especially something unpleasant or bad
- war veterans
people who fought in the armed forces during a war
causing severe shock, upset, or emotional distress
the use of optics (the study of light) and genetics (the study of how features and behaviour of living things are passed on through genes) to control things that happen in cells