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President Obama Unveils Brain Mapping Project

UCSF Leaders Invited to White House to Launch National Initiative

By Lisa Cisneros | | April 2, 2013

President Obama Unveils Brain Mapping Project

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, introduces President Barack Obama at a White House press conference announcing the BRAIN Initiative on April 2.

President Barack Obama today unveiled a $100 million public-private initiative to map the brain to gain greater insight on how we think, learn and remember and to better understand and treat diseases ranging from autism to schizophrenia.

Calling the plan bold and audacious, Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said BRAIN, an acronym for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, will bring together experts from industry, academia and federal agencies in neurotechnology, neurosciences and neurology to unlock the mysteries of the brain. The team will be led by Cornelia "Cori" Bargmann, PhD, a former UCSF professor who moved to Rockefeller University in 2004, and William Newsome, PhD, of Stanford University.

"We have a chance to improve the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this planet through the research that's done in this BRAIN Initiative alone," said President Obama. "But it's going to require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it's going to require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that is what made America, America."

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, was among more than 200 leaders from universities, research institutes, national laboratories and federal agencies invited to attend the White House event today.

Keith Yamamoto, PhD, vice chancellor for research, who also witnessed the historic event at the White House, said UCSF faculty have been involved in some early discussions within the University about the brain initiative.

In recent years, UCSF has made significant efforts to bring together clinicians, clinician-researchers and basic scientists to accelerate advances against such disorders as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, migraine, epilepsy, autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy. The opening of the Sandler Neuroscience Center, adjacent to the Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Hall neuroscience building, together constitute more than 400,000 square feet dedicated to studying these extremely complex, challenging diseases and represents a milestone in the evolution of UCSF's world-class neuroscience enterprise.

The brain mapping project is the brainchild of six scientists, including two from UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, who proposed the effort in the June 2012 issue of Neuron.

"To succeed, the [project] needs two critical components: strong leadership from funding agencies and scientific administrators, and the recruitment of a large coalition of interdisciplinary scientists," the scientists wrote. "We believe that neuroscience is ready for a large-scale functional mapping of the entire brain circuitry, and that such mapping will directly address the emergent level of function, shining much-needed light into the ‘impenetrable jungles' of the brain.”

The brain initiative is expected to be modeled after the $3.8 billion Human Genome Project, a 13-year effort that generated nearly $800 billion in economic activity and uncovered a wealth of data now being used worldwide in biomedical research.