NIH Requests $4.5 Billion For White House BRAIN Initiative

This article was originally published on The Psych Report before it became part of the Behavioral Scientist in 2017.

When President Barack Obama launched the BRAIN Initiative in 2013 to expand research into brain function and neurotechnologies, he did so with some $110 million to be spread across three of the U.S.’s biggest research institutions: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

With the singular, ambitious goal of understanding exactly how the brain works, the BRAIN Initiative—short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies—was announced as one of Obama’s “Grand Challenges,” meant to be on par in scale and impact with the Human Genome Project. But for institutions that already spend about $4.5 billion annually on neuroscience research, many scientists were skeptical of the project’s grand goals and meager means.

Following Obama’s announcement, NIH put together a working group tasked with figuring out how to approach the president’s challenge. Last month, the group announced its proposal. They can do it with a bit more support. In a massive 143-page report detailing their research plans, the NIH requested $4.5 billion to be spread over 10 years starting in fiscal year 2016 – $400 million/year for the first five years and $500 million/year each subsequent year.

Over the next dozen years they’ve prioritized to mapping the brain’s cells, circuits, and systems; uncovering the biological processes that produce thoughts, behavior, emotion, and perception; and developing new technologies to understand and treat brain disorders such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Following on the heels of the NIH’s federal proposal, California Governor Jerry Brown signed off on a $2 million supplemental fund for neuroscience research in his state. Cal-BRAIN, or California Blueprint for Research to Advance Innovations in Neuroscience – allocate funds across the UC system with “organizational hubs” at UC San Diego and the Berkeley Lab. With Cal-BRAIN, California joins a number of donors who’ve answered the president’s call for intensive brain research. The Allen Institute for Brain Science pledged $60 million annually to support project’s related to the BRAIN initiative. The Kavli Foundation has promised $4 million/year and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has also stated it will dedicate research funding to support the initiative.

While American scientists are hopeful for the BRAIN Initiative, its European counterpart isn’t faring so well. A year after the European commission launched the Human Brain Project with  €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) to create a computer simulation of the human brain, the project has come under fire from the scientific community for being poorly managed and too narrow in its goals. In an open letter to the Human Brain Project published earlier this week, over a 500 leading scientists around Europe have threatened to boycott the project unless substantial changes are made to the initiative. In response to the letter, the Human Brain Project released this statement.