News / Science & Technology

Obama Announces Plan to Map Human Brain

 President Barack Obama announces the BRAIN Initiative - Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies - in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2013.
President Barack Obama announces the BRAIN Initiative - Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies - in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama has launched a scientific research initiative aimed at demystifying the workings of the human brain.

The president described the human brain as one of the great frontiers of human discovery.

“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, study particles smaller than an atom, but we still have not unlocked the mystery of the three pounds [1.5 kilos] of matter that sits between our ears,” he said.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said he will propose $100 million for research to unlock the mystery. The funds are to go to the nation’s leading research institutions for collaboration with private companies and charitable foundations.

The project aims to understand how the interactions among the billions of neurons in the human brain form our thoughts, memories and movements. The benefits could reach billions of people worldwide.

“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. What if computers could respond to our thoughts, or language barriers could come tumbling down?” said Obama.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said a “dream team” of top minds in brain research will lay out the project’s priorities.

Unraveling the hugely complex network of billions of neural connections and their function will require tools and technology that do not yet exist. But Collins said their development may itself produce benefits.

“People are quite excited about what we can learn about how the brain does what it does, which may teach us new kinds of architectures that can be the next design principle for the computers of the future. So, the computers are going to serve us by analyzing and storing the data, but we may also maybe make them obsolete by figuring out new ways to design better ones,” said Collins.

The opportunity for innovation is at the heart of the brain-mapping initiative. With budget-slashing the order of the day in Washington, the president says the program is a wise investment in America’s future. He said each dollar spent on sequencing the human genome returned $140 to the economy, and he expects this project will have similar benefit.

“We cannot afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead," said Obama. "We have to seize them. I do not want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here. And that is part of what this BRAIN Initiative is about.”

Support for the initiative is not unanimous among researchers. Some skeptics say rather than focusing on a core set of issues, scientists should pursue a broad research agenda and follow where it leads.

Collins said it is the right idea, though, to think big.

“There is nothing like a project of this sort to inspire people to go to that next level. And we hope that we will recruit into this effort some of the best and brightest, all kinds of bright brains that might otherwise have done something else, to come and solve those problems,” he said.

Researchers say the initiative is not likely to produce immediate cures for diseases. Much of the research likely will focus first on animal studies, before moving on to humans.

You May Like

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Daikanyama T-SITE, JPN
April 06, 2013 7:55 PM
I'm just wondering how many people are suffering of Parkinson's? 1% of world population? Under 0.1% of world population?
Why do you have war beterans who has traumatic brain injury?
That's because you do wars worldwide.
Do you really want computers to respond our thoughts?

Are these the purpose to use $100M ?

It is just a political porpose, not for help people.

by: Thisheart from: Sellersburg, IN
April 02, 2013 5:21 PM
We're in trillions of debt, but by all means lets give the mad scientists some bucks to torture animals and find new ways to control human minds - Lord knows we wouldn't want the Chinese to beat us to it. I think we've been part of a BRAINLESS Initiative in this country for some time.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs