April 2, 2013

APA’s Anderson Attends Announcement of Brain Mapping Project

WASHINGTON—APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, was among approximately 200 scientists invited to the White House today as President Obama laid out an ambitious initiative to map every neural circuit in the brain. The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) project aims to create new technologies that will allow psychologists and other scientists to understand the inner workings of the human brain.

“Solving some of the most vexing problems facing us today, such as mental disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and substance abuse, will benefit from a better understanding of the brain and how it affects and is affected by behavior, cognitive processes and the environment,” Anderson said after the meeting. “Ultimately, the mapping of the human brain will help us develop better behavioral, psychological and pharmacological treatments for a host of illnesses.”

President Barack Obama is introduced by Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health, at the BRAIN Initiative event in the East Room of the White House, April 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) Currently, scientists can measure the activity of a single neuron through electrodes, or the function of large brain regions through technology such as fMRI, but the in-between step is largely missing. By filling that gap, the BRAIN project could help researchers develop new ways to treat, cure or even prevent a host of illnesses, Anderson said.

In addition to new technologies, the project will require close collaboration between psychologists and other scientists, including physicists, computer scientists and biologists, said Steven J. Breckler, PhD, APA’s executive director for science. All told, the project is comparable in scope to the Human Genome Project, and may take $3 billion and more than a decade to complete.

“It’s less about immediate applications to human beings and more about refining and developing the effort in model organisms,” Breckler said. “It will be worms at first, then fruit flies and by 2025 or so, we will work our way up to zebra fish.”

The program is launching with $100 million from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. Private institutions have also joined the effort, including the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which is contributing $60 million, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which will spend at least $30 million a year on projects related to the initiative.