April 6, 2013
The Exciting News Of Mapping The Human Brain
On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, I was driving home from work and listening to NPR when I heard the announcement that President Obama was proposing $100 million (USD) for a brain mapping project. I listened intently to the official unveiling of Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative (otherwise called the BRAIN initiative). This is a project of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
I first learned of the BRAIN initiative back in February 2013 when redOrbit published an article about it. BRAIN will seek to map the innermost workings of the human brain much in the way the US Human Genome Project mapped the entirety of the human genome. As NIH said, this will produce a revolutionary new picture of the brain.
President Obama explained that current brain-scanning technologies reveal average activity of the brain cells. The BRAIN initiative, though, will track all activity down to the individual cell and cell connections. Hopefully, the specific brain mapping will lead to treatments and cures of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, depression, epilepsy, and autism.
Specifically, Obama said, “Ultimately, you can’t fix it if you don’t know how it works…We need this fundamental understanding of neuronal circuits, their structure, their function and their development in order to make progress on these disorders.”
We know so little about the actually capabilities of the entire brain. We speculate on them, but do not have absolute understanding. We also know that the brain is complex. Through the Human Genome Project we learned so much about humanity and disease and genetics. It stands to reason that through mapping the entire brain, down to its last cell, we will only further the knowledge of the human being.
Perhaps brain mapping will help us to completely eliminate Alzheimer’s, which is debilitating and frustrating for the sufferer and heart breaking for the family members. Or what if through mapping we find a way to treat depression so that none have to suffer again? As CNN said about the project, “The hope is that these new technologies will lead to insights into how the brain processes information and how it is linked to behavior.”
Yes, I think this new BRAIN initiative is well worth the money.
And, frankly, $100 million (USD) is not that much for research that could and likely will lead to great strides in health and medicine. I mean, it is more money than I can adequately comprehend, but for research, well, that is barely scraping the surface. Yes, this is a time when both sides of the aisle in Congress are seeking to cut the budget, but what better than to invest in ourselves?
Let’s be honest, NASA spends five times that amount to study the sun. And the military spends more than that in just practice rounds. Those, too, are important for research and knowledge; so is understanding the human brain in order to better treat and cure diseases and ailments.
As redOrbit said of the funding, “Judging from the last major scientific initiative funded by the US government, the Human Genome Project, this expense should even find support among the most fiscally conservative members of Congress, when you consider the significant impact each dollar spent on that project had on our economy.”
The potential gains the brain map could give us are well worth the cost. I am excited to see how this research progresses over the next decade. Much needs to be decided for this project, including goals and markers as well as progress in treatments. That will be exciting scientific stuff to watch!
Image Credit: Lightspring / Shutterstock