July 2014

N.I.H. Seeks $4.5 Billion to Crack the Code of How Brains Function

It has been one year since the White House committed $1 million to launch the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative. The goal is to advance the treatment of brain disorders by funding research at a level not seen since the Space Race. The project sent an important message to the millions of Americans who are impacted by the disorders: You are not forgotten.

Neuroscientists involved in brain research at institutes around the country had mixed feelings about the announcement. They were happy that their research was being recognized as vital to the health of our country. But also skeptical about how far medical advances would really progress with the initial level of funding. Consumer groups raised important issues about how the BRAIN initiative would protect study participants’ privacy rights when sharing data between institutions. They also wanted to be certain that BRAIN research funding was used it a way that would optimize treatment options for consumers.

In response to the questions raised by the research communities and consumer advocate groups, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has convened an all-star working group to develop a rigorous plan for achieving the scientific vision behind BRAIN. The group is composed of scientists who are experts in the diverse fields relevant to the Initiative—neuroscience, molecular biology, the clinical sciences, the physical and quantitative sciences, and ethics.

Earlier this month their final report was issued to the N.I.H. In the report, the group discloses specific scientific strategies (with built-in safeguards to protect study participants) to create revolutionary advances in the treatment of diseases connected to the brain. The report also includes a budget to attract and keep the talent to achieve the goals outlined in the plan. Recommended funding would gradually increase until the investment reached $500 million a year in 2020, and stay at that level until 2025. “This is a more realistic amount of money to match the goals of the initiative,” said Dr. Eric Kandel, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the N.I.H., endorses the increased budget recommendation that is informed by researchers who work with the costs of real neuroscience using highly sophisticated technology. He hopes that Congress will see beyond the price tag and grasp what the BRAIN initiative will mean for the American people. “It (mapping the brain) won’t be fast, and it won’t be cheap,” he warns. But he said, “It will be a pretty exciting ride and an important one.”

Gerald Rubin, the executive director of the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia, emphasized a cautionary note to the announcement. “I am very concerned about convincing Congress to fund the Brain Initiative at this level.”

How can we do our part in launching the most comprehensive research effort in history to understand and treat brain disorders?
Voice your support of the BRAIN initiative to congress right now by sending an e-mail message or a text. It only takes a few minutes of your time, but it is a powerful step in the march for curing mental illness.

Remote Roundup

Technology Use and Bipolar Disorder
Researchers at Cornell University are developing tools to support the management of bipolar disorder and the early detection of warning signs associated with relapse. This survey will help them gain an understanding of how individuals with bipolar disorder use information technology including whether some find it helpful for managing their illness. They are also interested in learning whether people experience changes in their use of technology during manic or depressive episodes.

Young Adults with Mentally Ill Mothers
Western Michigan University is studying how young adults handle caring for their mother's ongoing mental health needs. On this web-based survey you will be asked to answer questions about yourself and your mother in reference to the recent past. Participation in the online survey will take about 30 minutes.