Obama sets aside $100 million for brain research

Hannah Berk, Staff Writer

There are many mysteries in life, but one of the greatest is between your ears — your brain.

On April 2, President Obama announced that his administration would set aside $100 million in the 2014 budget for what is officially called Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN).  The goal of the Brain Activity Map is to map out brain circuits and deepen the knowledge and working of the neurons in the brain.

“There is a lot that we don’t know about (regarding) the way this is going to work yet,” Samuel Pleasure, vice chair of neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, said about BRAINS, in an interview in his office at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus. (Due disclosure: Pleasure is the father of Mara Pleasure (’15), a Legend staff writer.)

“If the plan is to put $100 million dollars into researching how the brain works in a more comprehensive way, then that would be beneficial,” Pleasure said. However, Pleasure thinks that if the money is redirected towards other projects, such as research into heart disease or cancer, it could be a problem.

According to an April 8 article by PBS’s Simone Path, the BRAIN Activity Map project is being compared to John F. Kennedy’s exploration of landing a man on the moon. Whether or not this project will have the same successful outcome is a mystery millions are still waiting to find out.

Although brain mysteries persist, neuroscience has also come a long way over the past 100 years. As recently as 64 years ago, lobotomies and electroshock were a common practice. Today, among other things, scientists have discovered that there is a continued production of new neurons in select sections of the brain, showing that the brain keeps growing throughout a person’s life. For the first 100 years or so of research, neuroscientists did not realize that the brain kept growing after birth.

Although some questions have been answered, many have been left unanswered and mysteries persist. “We don’t even know how many different kinds of cells there are in the brain, much less how they are connected,” said Ed Boyden, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as quoted by CNN on April 3.