Year in Review: Obama unveils brain initiative

Project to seek secrets of thinking, learning


A proposal to accelerate brain research may someday mark 2013 as the dawn of a golden era in neuroscience. In April, President Obama announced an ambitious plan to reveal the human brain’s secrets (SN: 5/4/13, p. 22).

“There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama said in a speech, “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.”

The effort will be funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, along with a host of private foundations and companies.

Scientists and policy experts are still skirmishing over the focus and scope of the BRAIN Initiative, but some details are emerging. After a series of meetings with scientists around the country, a panel of neuroscientists settled on nine preliminary research priorities, ranging in scope from individual nerve cells to the entire brain (SN Online: 9/18/13).

The BRAIN Initiative will also fund scientists who develop new techniques to illuminate the coordinated behavior of large groups of nerve cells. Projects focusing on these initial nine priorities, which were approved by the NIH on September 16, are anticipated to receive $40 million of NIH funding in fiscal year 2014.

And the United States–based BRAIN initiative is not alone. On January 28, the European Commission awarded 1 billion euros to the Human Brain Project, an effort by 130 research institutes to develop the most precise model of the human brain yet.

See all top science stories of 2013 

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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