U.S. BRAIN Initiative

  • Published29 May 2014
  • Reviewed29 May 2014
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

 The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, announced by President Barack Obama April 2, 2013, will enable federal agencies and private-sector partners to develop tools and plans that will help accelerate fundamental discoveries and improve the health and quality of life for millions.

National Institutes of Health

The overarching goal of NIH’s contribution to the BRAIN Initiative is to map the circuits of the brain and the activity within those circuits to understand our unique cognitive and behavioral capabilities. NIH is focused on developing technologies that have the potential to benefit all of neuroscience and even non-neuroscience research. Visit braininitiative.nih.gov for more information.

  • The Advisory Committee to the Director BRAIN Working Group released an interim report in September 2013.
  • In June 2014, NIH released its long-term plan, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, which details seven high-priority research areas and calls for a sustained federal commitment of $4.5 billion over 12 years.
  • In September 2014, NIH awarded $46 million for research to more than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries. Collectively, these opportunities focus on advancing technological capabilities for understanding how circuits of interacting neurons function to create behavior, with the ultimate goal of improving the scientific foundation for the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders. These funded projects have yielded their first results, creating new tools to study the brain.

National Science Foundation

The NSF portion of the BRAIN Initiative aims to integrate across scales (e.g., genes to behavior) and disciplines (e.g., engineering and life sciences) to establish predictive theories of brain structure and function, and to use these theories to maintain and restore the healthy brain. It has a strong focus on technology and cyber tool development and the training of new generations of scientists to use the resources that emerge from the BRAIN Initiative. For more information, visit NSF.gov.

  • NSF launched a portal called Understanding the Brain dedicated to the agency’s activities associated with the BRAIN Initiative.
  • In August 2014, NSF awarded $10.8 million for 36 Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research, with the potential to transform our ability to analyze brain function underlying behavioral and cognitive processes.
  • In September 2014, NSF announced several funding opportunities as part of its involvement in the BRAIN Initiative, including the Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems program, which will support 15 to 25 grants for a total investment of up to $12 million for FY2015. 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DARPA seeks to develop a new understanding of complex, systems-based disorders of the brain. DARPA is supporting four programs as a part of this initiative: Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS), Restoring Active Memory (RAM), Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX), and Neuro-Function, Activity, Structure, and Technology (Neuro-FAST). Visit DARPA.mil for more information.

  • SUBNETS is pursuing advances in neuroscience and neurotechnology that could lead to new clinical understanding of how neuropsychological illnesses manifest in the brain and to advanced therapies, such as deep brain stimulation, to reduce the burden and severity of illness.
  • The RAM program will develop new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals in order to understand how neural stimulation could be applied to facilitate the recovery of memory encoding following brain injury.
  • HAPTIX aims to enable improved dexterity and fine motor control and restore the sensation of touch and spatial awareness for prosthetics users.
  • Neuro-FAST seeks to decode the behavior and neural activity of higher-order mammals to create a more complete understanding of neuronal activity and the structure and behavior of neural networks.

DARPA will expand upon these efforts in FY15 with the new ElectRx program, which aims to develop minimally invasive neurotechnologies that, through targeted stimulation of the nervous system, can enhance the body and brain’s ability to heal without surgery. 

Food and Drug Administration

The FDA has joined the BRAIN initiative to improve the regulatory process of neurological medical devices with the aim of better facilitating technological advances. More information can be found at FDA.gov.

  • In November 2014, the FDA held a public workshop, “Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Devices for Patients with Paralysis and Amputation,” to generate discussion about the scientific, clinical, and regulatory considerations of emerging BCI technology.
  • The discussion paper outlining feedback from the workshop will be used to guide future strategy for development and approval of BCI technologies. 

Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity

IARPA, an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will sponsor various programs using multidisciplinary approaches to advancing cognition and computation understanding in the brain. Those planned for FY15 include Knowledge Representation in Neural Systems (KRNS), Strengthening Human Adaptive Reasoning and Problem-solving (SHARP), and Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS). To learn more, visit IARPA.gov.

  • KRNS will explore and evaluate theories about how the brain makes sense of and represents conceptual knowledge, focusing especially on neural representations of concept combinations.
  • SHARP seeks development of noninvasive neural interventions to maximize adaptive reasoning and problem-solving capabilities in information-rich environments.
  • The MICrONS program plans to use data science and neuroscience side by side to reverse-engineer brain algorithms and advance machine learning abilities.

Private-Sector Partners

The BRAIN Initiative has involved four private-sector partners:

In addition, numerous companies, organizations, philanthropists, and universities all over the country are committing support and announcing plans to help to realize the ambitious goals of the BRAIN Initiative.




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