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Why is Obama keen on unlocking the brain?

April 02, 2013 23:36 IST

US President Barack Obama has announced a new research initiative designed to revolutionise the understanding of the human brain.

"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 that sits between our ears," Obama said at a White House event.

"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," said the US President.

Launched with approximately $100 million in the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) 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.

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, it said.

In his remarks today, Obama 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.

Obama said the scientific community is still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer's or autism or fully reverse the effects of a stroke.

"The most powerful computer in the world isn't nearly as intuitive as the one we're born with. There's 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. And that knowledge could be -- will be transformative," he said.

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