Mapping the brain

Thursday, December 5, 2019


The next decade will bring huge leaps forward in our understanding of the human brain, led by ambitious projects like the BRAIN Initiative, writes National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins in the Global Innovation Index 2019.


This article is part of a series about the power of innovation to solve social and economic challenges. Stories and statistics are drawn from the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2019.


With roughly 100 billion cells and 100 trillion connections, the human brain remains one of science’s most daunting frontiers – and one of medicine’s greatest challenges.


The growing social and economic burdens of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are motivating the search for greater understanding about how the brain works. Scientific programs like the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative in the U.S. are pioneering new knowledge and treatments.


Some of the most exciting BRAIN-funded studies since its inception six years ago include an experimental brain device that helps blind patients to distinguish light and motion, and a new method to use brain activity to reconstruct human speech.


Over the next decade, BRAIN researchers will produce a dynamic picture of the brain that will show for the first time how complex neural circuits and individual cells interact, in real time.


A giant leap forward


This new picture of how the brain operates will represent a giant leap forward in our understanding of how we record, process, use, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information. BRAIN-supported research will also map the circuits responsible for motor function, vision, memory, and emotion.


Long-desired by researchers, this information will help uncover new possibilities for treating autism, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and many other disorders in urgent need of new approaches. Progress will even be made against formidable foes like Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injuries.


Collaborate to innovate


Funded by the U.S. Congress through the 21st Century Cures Act, the BRAIN Initiative is a collaboration between federal research agencies and ten NIH institutes. Fiscal year 2019 saw NIH support for more than 270 investigators, and a total budget of almost $425 million.


Moving forward, the BRAIN Initiative hopes to develop its structure of projects centered in single or small teams of laboratories, and to continue to attract the expertise of diverse scientists, including engineers, geneticists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, computational scientists, and basic and clinical neuroscientists. By balancing individual lab research with team science, and increasing investment in data sharing, BRAIN hopes to propel its research and accelerate the pace of discovery.


The Global Innovation Index 2019 is the result of a collaboration between Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as co-publishers, and their Knowledge Partners, Confederation of Indian Industry, Dassault Systèmes, SEBRAE, Brazilian Micro and Small Industry Support Services, and Brazilian Confederation of Industry.


Published under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) licence. That means you can copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format for any purpose, even commercially, but you cannot change it in any way.


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