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Obama Reveals Brain Mapping Project

President Barack Obama describes a new brain mapping initiative today in a speech from the White House.

President Barack Obama unveiled the BRAIN Initiative today, a new collaborative effort to map the human brain and better understand how it works.

“As humans 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 between our ears,” Mr. Obama said.

BRAIN — which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — will diagram how the brain learns, thinks and remembers. Using new neurotechnology, scientists will be able to understand how activity in specific cells in the brain affect behavior.

In a live chat this afternoon on the White House website, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins said that this is an idea whose time has come. While neuroscientists have been able to study specific neurons and specific areas of the brain, there are trillions of connections and billions of neurons that work together. Scientists have never been able to map how the brain completes its tasks in real time, he said, and this initiative is an opportunity to finally understand that process.

The president said that this project will give scientists the knowledge to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and advance biotechnology to treat traumatic brain injuries and other neurological problems.

He compared the BRAIN Initiative to the Human Genome Project, a 13-year collaborative research effort to catalogue and study all of the genes in human DNA. These ambitious scientific research projects are an investment and generate economic growth, Mr. Obama said, citing that the Human Genome Project returned $140 to the economy for every dollar invested.

The BRAIN Initiative is budgeted for approximately $100 million in fiscal year 2014 as a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, as well as private partnership with organizations like the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

This project is one of the administration’s “Grand Challenges,” proposed scientific and engineering projects to advance American research and technology.

The BRAIN Initiative comes at a time when grants for scientific research have been significantly reduced as a result of the sequester. The president also said that cuts to science research will hinder young scientists’ ability to enter the field.

“When our leading thinkers wonder if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they’re not sure whether the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that’s something we should worry about,” he said.

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