Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BRAIN Initiative Urged to Focus on Circuitry and Behavior

President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, announced in April, should develop new research tools and increased collaborations with non-neuroscientists as it focuses on complex circuits and activity in the brain, said an advisory group's interim report presented yesterday at the National Institutes of Health.

The program should begin by generating a census of cell types and create structural maps of the brain, said committee co-chairs Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D., a professor at Rockefeller University in New York, and William Newsome, Ph.D., a professor at Stanford University, in a teleconference. “We’re seeking an understanding of the dynamics of the brain: where signals come from and how they are related to internal states,” said Newsome.

Work should begin with animal models, but human research data could come from patients undergoing diagnostic brain imaging or monitoring or those receiving deep brain stimulation or other technological interventions, the group suggested. Key to the suggested approach will be development of new or improved technologies to record brain activity and to manipulate brain circuits. That research and the tools to process the immense quantities of data require close collaboration among neuroscientists and computer specialists, statisticians, physicists, engineers, and other scientists. Rapid dissemination of these tools as they are developed, through training modules and summer courses, would accelerate progress, said Bargmann and Newsome. The focus on technology development fits with the initiative's overarching mission, which is, as the BRAIN acronym suggests, “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.”

The advisory committee will present its final report in June 2014.

For more in Psychiatric News about the BRAIN Initiative, see "Obama Calls for Major Initiative to Advance Brain Research."

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