Microsoft co-founder pumping $300M into open research of the brain

Paul Allen has again promised a chunk of his multibillion-dollar fortune to understanding the circuitry of the brain and how the complex organ functions, with a new $300 million commitment revealed Wednesday. It's expected to fund new free and online resources for scientists, in a huge win for such "open research" activity. 

The Microsoft ($MSFT) co-founder has now pledged half a billion dollars to the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Seattle-based nonprofit that he founded in 2003. With this latest round of funding, the group has ambitious goals to unravel mysteries to gain "a complete understanding of how the brain works, what goes wrong in brain-related diseases and disorders, and how best to treat them," according to the group's press release. Allen's funding is expected to bankroll the first four years of the major 10-year project, and plans call for doubling the nonprofit's staff to 350 people over the next three years.

The group's brain odyssey is already drawing semantic comparisons to space research. As the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets noted, the project called for building multiple computational tools called "brain observatories" that uncover the cellular and synaptic maps for various brain functions. The project will endeavor to shed light on the circuitry of awareness, behavior, memory and vision. And the research could help provide a route to new treatments for illnesses such as depression, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other brain-related diseases that impact millions of people, Xconomy reported. 

"They want to really characterize the parts list of the brain and map all its circuits to see how they connect and communicate," MIT neurobiologist Ed Boyden told the WSJ. "It is impossible for an ordinary lab group to bring all these pieces together."

Rather than keep the institute's discoveries under lock and key, Allen wants scientists the world over to access and exploit the findings for their own research. The group has already provided online blueprints of gene expression in the human and mouse brains, and the group says its online resources draw some 50,000 visits per month.

- here's the release
- read the WSJ article
- check out Forbes' piece
- and Xconomy's coverage

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