An unprecedented, 10-year study of the human brain is expected to be unveiled
by the Obama administration as early as next month, The New York Times
President Barack Obama cited the need for brain research in his State of the
Union address last week, and the Times reported that scientists,
government agencies and private foundations expect to team up in an effort to
reveal the mysterious inner workings of the brain's chemistry.
The project is known as the Brain Activity Map project, the news report said,
and the ultimate goal is to create a detailed map of the brain, which is
composed of billions of neurons, and to better understand mental illnesses and
brain disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and autism.
The US National Institutes of Health-sponsored research might even lead to
breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the newspaper reported.
More 'bang for our buck'
Scientists hope that the effort will have the same wide-reaching effect on
brain research and knowledge that the Human Genome Project had on genetics. When
it was completed in 2003, the 13-year Human Genome Project had mapped all of the
genes in human DNA. The project cost $3.8 billion, but had returned $800 billion
by 2010, the Times said.
George Church, a molecular biologist at Harvard University involved with both
projects, said of the brain mapping project: "We probably won't spend less
money, but we will probably get a lot more bang for the buck."
Scientists discussing the brain project said they hope Congress would allot
$3 billion or more over the length of the initiative, the newspaper said.
Experts welcomed the news.
"Unbiased approaches such as this and such as the Human Genome Project are
most useful in revealing 'unknown unknowns' - information that we would never
learn through standard logic and hypothesis-testing because these connections
would never cross our minds," said Dr Sam Gandy, associate director at the Mount
Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City.
The US National Institute of Mental Health has more about brain
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