NIH Seeks $4.5 Billion Over 10 Years for BRAIN Initiative
In early June, NIH embraced a long-term vision for President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative by calling for a decade-long $4.5 billion investment in NIH’s portion of the project. The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, announced by Obama in April 2013, seeks to accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to fill major gaps in our knowledge about the brain and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring how the brain functions.
Though NIH is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the BRAIN Initiative, the estimated price tag for this latest request only includes funding for NIH’s portion of the program for fiscal years 2016-2025.
The BRAIN Working Group of NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director, which has been working on a plan for NIH’s portion of the initiative for more than a year, developed the cost estimate as part of a rigorous report that maps out the necessary funding commitments and makes recommendations for achieving the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. NIH Director Francis S. Collins enthusiastically accepted the group’s recommendations and described the report as bold and game-changing.
“How the brain works and gives rise to our mental and intellectual lives will be the most exciting and challenging area of science in the 21st century,” Collins said. “As a result of this concerted effort, new technologies will be invented, new industries spawned, and new treatments and even cures discovered for devastating disorders and diseases of the brain and nervous system.”
Working group co-chairs Cornelia Bargmann of the Rockefeller University and Bill Newsome of the Stanford University School of Medicine presented a summary of the group’s recommendations to the NIH director, focusing on the revised budget and the changes that were made to the group’s interim report from last September. The co-chairs stated that while the deliverables set in the report are meant to be achievable within a 10-year timeframe, the milestones are meant to be aspirational and to push the field to increase the limit of discovery and possibility. Check out SfN’s Q&A with Bargmann and Newsome on the BRAIN Initiative.
The NIH report outlines an investment ramping up to $400 million a year for fiscal years 2016-2020 to focus on technology development and $500 million a year for fiscal years 2020-2025 to focus on the application of those technologies. The working group emphasized that its cost estimates assume that the funds for the BRAIN Initiative will supplement NIH’s existing investment in the broader spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research.
“While these estimates are provisional and subject to congressional appropriations, they represent a realistic estimate of what will be required for this moon-shot initiative,” Collins said. “As the Human Genome Project did with precision medicine, the BRAIN Initiative promises to transform the way we prevent and treat devastating brain diseases and disorders while also spurring economic development.
The BRAIN initiative kicked off in fiscal year 2014 with a $100 million investment, with $40 million going to NIH. And the president has requested that Congress approve $200 million for the BRAIN Initiative for fiscal year 2015, with $100 million going to NIH.
The NIH working group recommended that over the 10-year period from 2016-2025, the initiative focus the first five years on technology development and the second five years on integrating technologies to make fundamental new discoveries about the brain. With this vision in mind, the group identified the following scientific goals as high priorities in the field:
- Identify and provide experimental access to the different brain cell types to determine their roles in health and disease.
- Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
- Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.
- Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
- Produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.
- Develop innovative technologies to understand the human brain and treat its disorders; create and support integrated brain research networks.
- Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in the other goals to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.
The working group noted that these scientific goals will be maximized through seven core principles that should apply to research conducted in this program:
- Pursue human studies and non-human models in parallel.
- Cross boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations.
- Integrate spatial and temporal scales.
- Establish platforms for preserving and sharing data.
- Validate and disseminate technology.
- Consider ethical implications of neuroscience research.
- Create mechanisms to ensure accountability to NIH, the taxpayer, and the community of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscientists.
The NIH report sets out a long-range timeline, but work is already underway. In December 2013, NIH announced six funding opportunities in response to the high-priority areas identified by the working group’s interim report, and awards are expected to be announced this September.
The BRAIN Initiative is one of many ventures around the globe — such as the European Commission’s Human Brain Project, the proposed Australian project AusBrain, and programs in Israel, China, and Japan — that are dedicated to advancing the field of neuroscience and unlocking the secrets of the brain. For more information, check out this video from Neuroscience 2013’s special presentation “Understanding New Brain Initiatives in the U.S. and Europe,” featuring NIMH Director Thomas Insel, NINDS Director Story C. Landis, DARPA Biological Technologies Office Director Geoffrey Ling, NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett, and Daniel Pasini, policy and programme officer for the European Commission.