Washington should spend $4.5 billion over 10 years to fund research into the workings of the human brain, an advisory committee to NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., concluded in a report issued today.

The ACD BRAIN Working Group sought to codify how NIH should carry out President Obama’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The panel concluded that BRAIN will require much more than has been called for to date—$40 million in the current federal fiscal year, which ends September 30, and $100 million proposed by Obama for Fiscal Year 2015.

The working group called for spending $400 million a year for fiscal years 2016–2020, with a focus on technology development and validation, followed by $500 million a year for FY 2020–FY 2025 aimed at applying those technologies in an integrated fashion to make fundamental new discoveries about the brain.

The working group said it assumed the additional spending it recommended for BRAIN will supplement, not supplant, NIH's existing investment in basic, translational, and clinical neuroscience research. The agency has projected it will fund $5.474 billion in FY 2014 and $5.477 billion in FY 2015 for neuroscience studies.

Dr. Collins responded to the advisory panel by saying he accepted the recommendations, which he characterized 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,” Dr. Collins said in a statement. “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.”

The working group articulated nine scientific goals for BRAIN: 

  • Determine the roles of different brain cell types in health and disease by identifying them and providing experimental access to them.
  • Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.
  • Develop and apply improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity, with the goal of producing a dynamic picture of the functioning brain.
  • Link brain activity to behavior, using precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.
  • Develop new theoretical and data analysis tools to produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes.
  • Create and support integrated brain research networks to develop new technologies for understanding the human brain and treating its disorders.
  • Integrate the new technological and conceptual approaches to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.

To achieve these scientific goals, the report articulated seven core principles:

Pursue human studies and nonhuman models in parallel; cross boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations; integrate spatial and temporal scales; establish platforms for preserving and sharing data; validate and disseminate technology; create mechanisms to ensure accountability to NIH, taxpayers, and neuroscientists; and consider ethical implications of neuroscience research.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues urged neuroscientists to integrate ethics into their research in a report issued May 14. That panel also urged investigators to evaluate existing and innovative approaches to ethics integration, integrate ethics and science through education at all levels, and explicitly include ethical perspectives on advisory and review bodies.

Launched last year, BRAIN has the ambitious goal of revolutionizing what science knows about the human brain to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of numerous disorders whose treatment to date has proven frustrating.

These include addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, chronic pain, dementia, depression, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury. 

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