President Obama's BRAIN Initiative has begun to take shape over the past 6 months as vague goals have been developed into definite priorities. The process continued recently when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed the 6 projects on which it will invest its first $40 million of BRAIN Initiative funding.
NIH developed the projects in response to the priority areas its advisory group released in September. The projects cover the classification of neurological cell types, modulation of the nervous system, next-generation brain imaging and other areas. Together the projects are intended to help meet the primary, overarching goal of the BRAIN Initiative--to understand how humans think, learn and remember. In doing so, the project could reveal therapeutic targets for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other brain disorders.
Improved information technology capabilities are needed to reach this end goal, and several of the initial NIH projects cover the development of this infrastructure. Data analysis, storage and dissemination are central to NIH's brief for its large-scale analysis of neural systems and circuits project. The brain imaging project will also place new demands on software and infrastructure, with NIH highlighting the need for tools to standardize, share and visualize data.
NIH also wants to incorporate the molecular identity and connectivity of each cell type into a brain atlas. The project stems from the advisers who drafted the NIH priorities. "Cell biology has a lot to contribute to the BRAIN Initiative. We really don't know what all the cell types are in the nervous system. It's kind of embarrassing," Rockefeller University's Cori Bargmann, co-chair of the group tasked with defining NIH's involvement in the project, said at the annual American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) meeting.
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