Latimer: Brain research funding in US shows shift

Nine key areas were identified to receive funding with the goal to create a more complete picture of how the brain works. 

Encouraging news came out of the U.S. last week with an announcement from the National Institutes of Health about brain research funding for the 2014 fiscal year.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced a BRAIN initiative in April calling for $110 million to fund research into neuro-technologies to advance our understanding of the brain and how it works.

Forty million dollars will come from NIH and the announcement set out areas of high priority to receive this funding.

Nine key areas were identified to receive priority funding and the goal is to use these research areas to create a more complete picture of how the cells and circuits within the brain work to affect human behaviour as well as how they go wrong in disease.

The nine areas of focus are: generating a census of brain cell types; creating structural maps of the brain; developing new, large-scale neural network recording capabilities; developing tools for neural circuit manipulation; linking neuronal activity to behaviour; integrating theory, modeling, statistics and computation with neuroscience experiments; delineating mechanisms underlying brain imaging technologies; creating mechanisms to enable collection of human data for research; and, disseminating knowledge and training.

The BRAIN Working Group will continue creating a longer-term scientific plan they expect to present to NIH sometime next year.

In the meantime, researchers will be able to use this new funding to continue existing work in these areas and launch new programs in order to achieve these goals.

It is exciting to see a priority being placed on this kind of scientific research.

In fact, it is part of what some are likening to an international neuroscience arms race. Not only has the US pledged several billion dollars into neuroscience research in the coming years, but Europe has also been putting forward large amounts of research money for brain mapping and Canada has also ponied up some cash both federally and provincially.

In 2011-2012, the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) spent more than 10 percent of its $1 billion budget on neuroscience.

It seems there is a shift occurring around the world as everyone wants to work toward truly advancing our understanding of the brain—medicine’s final frontier.

The brain is an incredibly complex organ about which we still need to learn many things.

However, with properly funded research, we will continue to get closer to out goals and this improved understanding will benefit us all in the long term.

The more knowledge we gain about the brain and the way it functions, the more equipped we will be in preventing, diagnosing and treating mental illness when it occurs.


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