America BRAIN large neuroscience research plans in noisy departure

Only a month earlier, President Barack Obama discloses comparable lunar program neuroscience generous plan, which is also a Europe which lasted 10 years and cost € 1 billion human brain comparable to far-reaching plan plans.

For BRAIN program, scholars still did not reach a consistent solution.

Everyone’s belief that we are ready for the leap. As for this leap is, in what direction will develop still debate.

Mixed with excitement, hope and anxiety diffuse tensions in the crowded hotel ballroom. In May this year, a Monday morning, neuroscientists, physicists and engineers gathered in the town of Arlington, Virginia, United States of a room, and even more people to be concerned about only through the webcast.

Only a month earlier, President Barack Obama discloses comparable lunar program neuroscience generous plan, which is also a Europe which lasted 10 years and cost 1 billion euros (about 1.3 billion U.S. dollars) in human Brain Project comparable to far-reaching plan. Obama promised, the United States through the promotion of technological innovation and nerves Brain Research (BRAIN) program will develop a series of tools to study brain activity in the understanding of the human mind to achieve major breakthroughs in the field.

However, Obama on April 2 statement is not clear enough, overlooked some key details, such as the specific objectives of the program and how to implement it. Therefore, the plan for the first time the great debate – May 6, by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the California Oaks Foundation that Germany City Cuffley organized a seminar – attracted a large number of fields from neuroscience researchers.

Boston, Massachusetts, a neurobiologist at Harvard Medical School, one of Van Wedeen seminar organizers admitted that the scene is very chaotic. Everyone is afraid to miss the field of neuroscience, “the next big thing” – even if no one knows what is specific to this big event. “Everyone belief is that we are ready for that leap.” Wedeen said, “As for the leap is, in what direction will develop still debate.”

Other people describe BRAIN program is a Rorschach’s test – for an uncertain thing, each researcher was invited to state their hope and not confident mood. But with the development of the plan, it’s more like a massive sociological experiment, a strong public scrutiny and under the conditions of shortage of funds, the huge efforts neuroscience community around a common research program.


For the public, Obama’s announcement of a sudden this – the U.S. president had never before been so focused on neuroscience. In fact, the plan as early as 18 months ago, the White House 6000 km away from the place to start brewing. Chicheley in the UK at a meeting, a number of neuroscientists and nano-scientists invited by the Kavli Foundation, common vision of the future of neuroscience research: simultaneously recorded neurons thousands or even millions of electrical impulses.

This is our understanding of how the brain produces the only way of thinking, from the Kavli Foundation, New York, Columbia University neuroscientist Rafael Yuste said – Yuste was first put forward this proposal. The proposal reads: through broad, coordinated effort to develop a new technology for tracking human brain functional connectivity activities, and ultimately achieve every one can measure the level of neuronal activity. Current technology can only record from a single neuron or a small group of neurons Information – Yuste said, it’s like you’re watching movies, but the TV screen is only one pixel.

In order to do better, Cuffley Foundation experts called a brain activity map (BAM) Project: This technology allows researchers to begin development projects draw simple organisms (such as Drosophila) fine images of neural activity, thus turning more , more complex mammalian systems (such as a mouse retina). The research could eventually greatly expanded awareness of healthy and diseased human brain cognitive status. They predict that within 15 years, BAM will be able to simultaneously record a mouse brain cortex of all activities – primates and even humans, will be the next target.

BAM has aroused great interest of researchers. “If we just stay in the laboratory for a number of small studies, all of this will never happen.” Yuste said. However, the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said neurobiologist Markus Meister, for many outsiders, BAM is an ill-conceived plan, or even wrong idea – “a work based on science fiction.” Some critics pointed out, BAM time-consuming and costly. “We do not really know what they have data.” MIT neuroscientist Mehrdad Jazayeri said.

However, BAM has been the concern of the White House managers. February 12, in the State of the Union speech, the president first expressed interest in BAM. Until five days later, neuroscientists have realized the importance of things, “New York Times” reported on the front page of the White House plan to publish a 10-year neuroscience program. The article said that the plan may receive federal funding, and $ 3.8 billion was funded Human Genome Project at the same level. In 10 years, the program will draw a human brain activity on a comprehensive and detailed maps.

The news shocked so many neuroscientists, fearing possible to carry out the plan at the expense of the cost of existing projects, in addition, in order to achieve a seemingly impossible goal which led to the failure will undermine public trust in science. “This is a small group of people made a narrow decision.” BAM critics, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York neuroscientist Partha Mitra said.

Concept of fuzzy

However, the government has begun to take a different strategy. In the April 2 when the government issued an official statement, the project has been renamed BRAIN plan and capital investment is relatively modest: FY 2014 to obtain $ 110 million federal funding. The duration of the project is no longer limited – although the White House hinted that it may last for 10 years or more.

And BAM different, BRAIN program without clear objectives. Obama said only that will study new ways to help neuroscientists brain circuits draw a clearer pattern – these techniques will treat nervous system disorders (such as epilepsy, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia) Shop flat road.

Although confusing, but many neuroscientists believe that the official declaration BRAIN plan is reassuring. They know where everything is, the rest of the details will be given to three government agencies deal: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), will contribute $ 50 million the first year; National Institutes of Health (NIH), will provide the plans to invest $ 40 million; National Science Foundation (NSF) will fund $ 20 million. The program will also receive four private sector support, which provided a total of $ 122 million in financial support.

“I am most concerned about is accurate and fast reconstruction of brain circuits.” Jane Niyafamu Research Institute neuroscientist Albert Cardona said.

For BRAIN program, scholars still did not reach a consistent solution. No one can even say that the plan is to get cash support, or separation from the existing research funds to finance the plan.Currently an NIH BRAIN program advisory committee is working on drafting a long-term plan, and will be completed by June 2014.

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