During his last State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama touched on a program called Brain Activity Map (BAM). BAM scientists hope to map activity of each of the 100 billion neurons in the human brain. BAM will piggyback on the Human Connectome Project (NIH funded) to create a high-resolution map of the major structural and functional connections in the human brain.This initiative is projected to cost more than $300 million/year for ten years and follows the strides in cancer research (1970) and the human genome project of the 90′s.
Using new non-invasive methods derived from nanotechnology, BAM will develop the tools to “listen in” to neurons as they perform tasks. Thus, BAM would bridge the gap in knowledge between single cell research and functional imaging models. Basically, signals sent by every brain cell would be recorded so we can better understand the circuitry of human thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The implications of this project is enormous – from advances in medicine to artificial intelligence! Along with this comes HOPE. Hope that if we can understand the circuitry of the brain, there will be better diagnosis, treatment – even a cure – for brain illnesses such as depression, dementia and even Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Landis (director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) commented on BAM in relation to its potential impact on deep brain stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson’s disease. DBS, although effective, “is a very elementary way to influence how circuits in the brain function,” Dr. Landis explained. “It uses electrical current as sort of a brain pacemaker to change the way circuits involved in the disease work. But imagine if we understood in detail how information was processed through the circuits that control movement for Parkinson’s, or emotion for depression, we could potentially develop much better interventions.” (Medscape Medical News)
I think the focus of understanding brain function is phenomenally important and I’m excited to see it high up on the US governments research agenda! However, this initiative still leaves me with 3 thoughts…
1. Are we (technology) up for this task? We invested a lot of hope in stem cells 10 years ago only to see that our current technology is not quite enough to make major strides in this field (YET!). Will we be able to create the technologies necessary to perform this project, store the data, interpret it and apply this research to the populations that matter?
2. Will funding be approved for BAM in March when Congress votes on the 2014 budget. And if so, what does this mean to grant money available for the approx 750 research labs across the US.
3. What will this mean for scientific diversity? Scientists have different strengths and different interests. Not only do people from different backgrounds choose to investigate different questions, but they may approach the same question in different ways… leading to greater innovation. Science benefits greatly from a community that approaches problems in a variety of creative ways. A diverse community is better able to generate new research methods, explanations, and ideas, which can help science over challenging hurdles and shed new light on problems.
i’m excited to see how this project evolves and advances our understanding of neurodegeneration! Stay tuned.. much love.
PS. want some ideas on how to build better brain function? Read more HERE
PSS. 6 TED talks on mapping the human brain HERE