While budget pressures may turn it into a wish list, the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has outlined a long-term plan for the NIH portion of the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). NIH is one of three federal agencies involved, along with several private sector entities and foundations. The NIH intends, per its press release, to “map the circuits of the brain, measure the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity flowing within those circuits, and understand how their interplay creates our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities.”
The estimated necessary investment is significantly larger than the $140 million expected between the current fiscal year and fiscal year 2015. The Advisory Committee sees a 12-year investment of $4.5 billion as important toward achieving its vision, which would include doing the following (again, from the press release):
- Pursu[ing] human studies and non-human models in parallel
- Cross[ing] boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations
- Integrat[ing] spatial and temporal scales
- Establish[ing] platforms for preserving and sharing data
- Validat[ing] and disseminat[ing] technology
- Consider[ing] ethical implications of neuroscience research
- Creat[ing] mechanisms to ensure accountability to the NIH, the taxpayer, and the community of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscientists
The Advisory Committee describes its plan in a report released last week. BRAIN 2025 is pretty thorough, certainly for a policy document (rather than a research paper). It covers why the Initiative is needed, a scientific review intended to justify the choices for high-priority research areas, and a detailed implementation plan that includes deliverables, milestones, and cost estimates. It’s worth taking the time to review and digest.
As ambitious, and arguably as valuable, as the BRAIN Initiative is, the recent budget fights suggest to me that there is no stomach in Congress for major scientific investments. There’s barely enough interest in maintaining a status quo that doesn’t consider inflation. I strongly suspect that a large chunk of the $4.5 billion (again, this would be spread out over 12 years) will come – if it comes at all – from non-governmental sources. That may not be a problem, depending on what expectations come with the additional outside funding.
The White House intends to hold an event later this year to discuss further efforts supporting the BRAIN Initiative. No date has been announced as yet.