According to a White House press release, President Obama will follow through on his State of the Union call for a comprehensive map of the human brain by announcing $100 million in federal investments for the project on Tuesday morning. Funds for the project — dubbed the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative — will be appropriated through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and will be included in the FY 2014 budget that the president is set to release next week.
The project’s central component will be the Brain Activity Map, which seeks to “accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought” in an effort to “explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.” As President Obama explained during the State of the Union, such advancements could herald the key to unlocking pressing public health mysteries, including effective methods of curing brain injuries and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
That’s particularly significant in a time of rising dementia rates among Americans. A recent pair of studies released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that a combination of factors — including an aging population, more targeted early diagnosis efforts, and the failure to discover a viable cure — led to a staggering 68 percent increase in Alzheimer’s mortality rates between 2000 and 2010. The associated health care costs of that rise in the disease were $200 billion in 2012 alone, including $140 billion to government insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. If the current trend holds, those costs could balloon to over $1 trillion by the year 2050.