In commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day, President Barack Obama unveiled a new research initiative designed to give more understanding about the human brain on Tuesday.
The BRAIN Initiative, which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, “… ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and autism.”
The president’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, which is supposed to come out next week, could allocate $100 million to this project. The $100 million will go to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. NIH will then give $40 million to its Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, which supports the development of new tools and training opportunities.
Foundations and private research institutions are also investing in the neuroscience that will advance the BRAIN Initiative. The Allen Institute for Brain Science will support projects related to this initiative by spending at least $60 million annually. The Kavli Foundation plans to give $4 million every year, over the next 10 years, in support of BRAIN Initiative-related activities. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will also dedicate research funding for projects that support the project.
The project was originally referenced during the State of the Union, when Obama said, “Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy — every dollar. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. We need to make those investments.”
At a BRAIN Initiative event on Tuesday, Obama highlighted the project, calling it one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges.”
Grand Challenges, such as the Human Genome Project, are ambitious goals on a national or global scale that demand advances in innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology.
“We’re still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke. And the most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with. So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be — will be — transformative,” Obama said on Tuesday.
In 2011, Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Proclamation to mark April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, and has issued similar proclamations every year since.
“… while our country has made progress in supporting Americans with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), we are only beginning to understand the factors behind the challenges they face. On World Autism Awareness Day, we recommit to helping individuals on the autism spectrum reach their full potential,” said Obama’s proclamation.
The proclamation also mentioned the Affordable Care Act. “… we need a health care system that works for children and adults with ASDs. The Affordable Care Act prevents insurers from denying coverage to children on the autism spectrum, and it ensures new health plans must cover autism screenings at no cost to parents. Beginning in 2014, the Act will make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against men and women with preexisting conditions … ” the proclamation said.
Autism Speaks President Liz Feld said, “We welcome the president’s announcement of this critically important initiative. At the same time, we intend to continue working closely with the administration to assure the Affordable Care Act fully incorporates behavioral health treatment for autism as an essential health benefit.”
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.