Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Introducing the Brain Initiative

It's here!

No longer BAM (the Brain Activity Map project), but perhaps more appropriately acronymed to BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies).  Watch here as Obama officially announces the venture (with crowd shots of Big Deal neuroscientists).


Then read here for more official info:
The quick rundown:
  • public funding: $50M DARPA, $40M NIH, $20M NSF
  • private funding: $60M Allen Brain Institute, $30M HHMI, $4M Kavli, $28M Salk Institute 
Finally, watch the Q&A with Tom Kalil, Dr. Arati Prabhakar (DARPA), and Dr. Francis Collins (NIH), which has some good nuggets in there:

Things I find interesting:
  • The total dollar amount isn't Human Genome Project level - only ~$100M committed from public sources, and that just for FY2014.  No statement anywhere about recurrent funding, though the private foundations seem to be kicking in annual contributions.
  • The money coming from NIH is being scraped together from existing neuroscience pots + a little discretionary.  So it's not like money for cancer is being diverted to neuro.
  • Yeah they're still selling it on the "let's cure human diseases" thing.  Which won't happen, but hey.
  • The team they've put together to decide on concrete goals looks pretty awesome.  It's also notably comprised of many names that were NOT involved with the initial planning of this venture so hopefully there will be some outside perspective.
  • The fact that this team is in place suggests that they're well aware of the criticisms that the project goals were too fuzzy.  Even Partha Mitra was relieved:
Questions that remain unanswered:
  • How will the money be distributed/apportioned/made available for grant proposal?
  • What's the deal with the "brain observatories"?
  • What will the reaction be?  Still not seeing anything really from the political sphere, or the media sphere. Perhaps this doesn't become an issue until Congress starts sinking its teeth into the budget.

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