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Obama Announces First Funding for Brain Mapping Project

A plan to map the activity of entire brain regions down to the level of indvidual neurons got its official nod from the White House on Tuesday when President Obama announced his budget will request $100 million in funding for the project in 2014.

The brain activity map project, now officially dubbed the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN (get it?), will be a sprawling project requiring scientists and engineers to develop new technologies that can record activity from millions or even billions of neurons simultaneously (see “The Brain Activity Map”).

Obama said that the initiative could help researchers understand and perhaps even cure diseases and conditions like Alzheimer’s, autism and stroke, and it could help veterans with cope with amputations, paralysis or post-traumatic stress disorder. The BRAIN project, like all basic research, will also drive economic growth and create new, if as-yet-unimaginable jobs, he said.

The details of how these goals will be achieved are still murky, but today’s announcement did provide some information about how the research will be funded and guided.

The money that the President’s 2014 budget will request for the BRAIN initiative will come from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation. Private foundations such as the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Kavli Foundation will also contribute financially towards the effort.

The project will be led by two neuroscientists: Cori Bargmann, who studies the genetic and neural basis of behavior in C. elegans worms at Rockefeller University; and Bill Newsome, who studies visual perception and related behaviors in monkeys at Stanford University School of Medicine. A group at the NIH led by Bargmann and Newsome will announce this summer which projects will be first in line for funding, said NIH director Francis Collins in a Q&A session held after the president’s morning announcement.

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