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Obama's $100 mn BRAIN project to beat India, China

Last updated on: April 3, 2013 17:05 IST

Obama's $100 mn BRAIN project to beat India, China

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Pushing for job-creating discoveries to happen in the US rather than in India or China, President Barack Obama has unveiled an ambitious $100 million project to unlock the "enormous mystery" of the human brain.

"The most powerful computer in the world isn't nearly as intuitive as the one we're born with," Obama said at the White House.

"There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) 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," he said.

"And that knowledge could be - will be - transformative," he added.

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Image: U.S. President Barack Obama is introduced by American physician-geneticist Francis Collins before his announcement of his administration's BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative at the White House.
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters.
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"We can't afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead. We have to seize them. I don't want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here, in the United States of America," Obama said.

Launched with approximately $100 million in the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, the BRAIN initiative ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

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, the White House said.

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Image: US President Barack Obama is introduced by American physician-geneticist Francis Collins at the White House.
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters.
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"As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can studies particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the 3 pounds of matter that sits between our ears," Obama said.

"But today scientists possess the capability to study individual neurons and figure out the main functions of certain areas of the brain, but a human brain contains almost a hundred billion neurons making trillions of connections," the US President said.

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 White House said.

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Image: U.S. President Barack Obama with American physician-geneticist Francis Collins at the White House.
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters.
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Obama, in his remarks, also called on companies, research universities, foundations, and philanthropists to join with him in identifying and pursuing the Grand Challenges of the 21st century.

Obama said sometimes, in fact, some of the best products and services spin off completely from unintended research that nobody expected to have certain applications.

"Businesses then use that technology to create countless new jobs. So the founders of Google got their early support from the National Science Foundation.

The Apollo project that put a man on the moon also gave us, eventually, CAT scans. And every dollar we spend to map the human genome has returned $ 140 to our economy: $1 of investment, $140 in return," he said.

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Image: United States astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag on the surface of the Moon after he and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first men to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 space mission July 20, 1969.
Photographs: NASA/Handout/Reuters.
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Obama said the scientist community is still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer's or autism or fully reverse the effects of a stroke.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, said investing in biomedical research is one of the wisest choices one can make as a nation. Obama was introduced as "scientist in chief" by Collins at the event.

"The US has long been at the forefront of one medical breakthrough after another, helping to save lives, improve people's health and grow the economy. Moving forward, we as a country are extraordinarily fortunate to have a leader who places such a high value on science to unlock the mysteries of disease and discover new ways of overcoming them," Collins said.

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Photographs: Reuters.
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The new moves comes as in the last decade alone, scientists have made number of landmark discoveries that now create the opportunity to unlock the mysteries of the brain, including the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools for mapping neuronal connections, the increasing resolution of imaging technologies, and the explosion of nanoscience.

These breakthroughs have paved the way for unprecedented collaboration and discovery across scientific fields.

For instance, by combining advanced genetic and optical techniques, scientists can now use pulses of light to determine how specific cell activities in the brain affect behaviour.



Photographs: Courtesy, mayoclinic.
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