With several billion cells "communicating" with other cells in the human brain, according to one observer the capacity to "listen" to these energy circuits has to be increased, documented and diagramed and then mathematically analysed in order to "mine" their meaning. Speaking on "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook, Christof Koch, neuroscientist and chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, one of the partners of President Obama’s BRAIN initiative, enthusiastically endorsed the project.
It will take highly trained minds in many fields to conduct the research, and it will not be analogous to the "genome project" with 'industrialised' what was already known about the human DNA. In the "BRAIN" project, barely the first steps have been taken, and only the shaping of the project will take up the first few steps, without compromising the work of individual scientists, a fear of some skeptics, like Michael Eisen, biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who also appeared on On Point earlier today.
The BRAIN project, is far more complex, and will take much longer to accomplish than the Genome Project, and will push human knowledge and awareness to the point of envisaging "the creation of consciousness in technological devices, according to the On Point panel.
While our children gasped at the possibility of landing on the moon, our grandchildren will gasp at the wonders unpacked from the human brain, a path on which the United States President has now set the human, as well as the scientific community.
And there will be no going back, no matter what we discover, both the benefits to those suffering from such illnesses as dementia, MS, PTSD, and others, and the inevitable downside(s).
This could be one of the more illuminating and challenging frontiers that humans have both encountered and wrestled with, in our endless search for answers to the most puzzling questions.
And the brain is the most complex, the most challenging and the most mysterious human organ...hence the worldwide interest in the project. There are, apparently, some 60,000 neuroscientists already working on discovering how the brain operates, so there is already an "army" of potential participants all of whom will be lining up for research grants, once the program is fully operational.
Brain mapping project aims to help treat brain disorders
Canadian neuroscientists believe they are in a good position to assist with the goal outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday to unlock the mysteries of the human brain.
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, April 02, 2013
WASHINGTON—The last time global science got this ambitious, rallying alongside the Americans in a groundbreaking project to map the human genome, Canada was largely a bystander.
But as the Obama administration raises the curtain on an even more daunting effort to unlock the mysteries of the brain, a new generation of better-funded Canadian neuroscientists appears ready for a prime-time role.
The long-awaited U.S. announcement, unveiled Tuesday by President Barack Obama, plants seed money of $100 million (U.S.) and the potential for billions more to come in a world-leading, interdisciplinary effort to crack the code of the human mind.
The Brain Research Though Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, Obama promised, will “lead the world into that next frontier of human understanding.”
The White House goal is to develop new technologies to help scientists get their heads around how our heads actually work. The hoped-for payoffs include the prospects of futuristic breakthroughs in the treatment of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury.
Skeptics abound, just as they did 23 years ago, when the U.S. Human Genome Project set out to map our DNA, with the help of geneticists in the United Kingdom, France, Australia and Japan. Completion was declared in 2003, two years ahead of schedule, thanks to rapid advances in genomics and sequence analysis.
Underfunded Canadian researchers watched from the sidelines as the international effort took hold, prompting a grim 1998 warning from the National Biotechnology Advisory Committee.
“The reduction in Canada’s genome program,” the committee said, “has not only hollowed out the country’s existing capability, but has jeopardized the chances of Canada leading the next wave of postgenomic studies.”
( Genome Canada has since worked to reverse that situation, increasing funding for large-scale research through its six Genome Centres across the country.)
But Canadian researchers are in a measurably better place today, especially when it comes to the kind of interdisciplinary approach to brain research outlined Tuesday by Team Obama.
“Canadian neuroscientists are among the best in the world, and we expect that they will be invited to collaborate with U.S. teams as the project rolls out, starting in 2014,” said Dr. Mark Bisby, science adviser to Brain Canada , which oversees the $100-million Canada Brain Research Fund.
“We intend to be fairly proactive about it,” Bisby said. “Canada largely missed out on the Human Genome Project. We had excellent scientists but a lack of funding. Since then, funding for health research has improved greatly. And now, with the Canada Brain Research Fund, there’s a strength, breadth and depth to the Canadian neuroscience research community that we didn’t have even 15 years ago.”
The White House is especially fond of the comparison to the Human Genome Project, emphasizing the estimated economic payback at $140 into the U.S. economy for every tax dollar invested. In an era of shrinkage and sequester, such financial arguments are essential.
But as Techcrunch. com and many others observe, the comparisons get a bit awkward when it comes to the almost infinitely more complex processes of the human brain.
Unlike the HGP, Obama’s BRAIN Initiative has not yet detailed a plan, time frame or specific goals in its quest to accelerate our understanding of an organ involving an estimated 125 trillion synapses. The first piece of that puzzle is expected this summer, when a “dream team” of 15 U.S. scientists tables recommendations with the federally funded U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) on research priorities.
NIH director Francis Collins acknowledged the ambitiousness — “some might even call it audacious” — of such a project.
But Collins, who led the Human Genome Project in the 1990s, told a conference call with reporters that he held in his hand a DNA sequencer the size of a postage stamp, a device capable of doing in one second what took an entire day at the outset of the HGP.
Bisby, of Brain Canada, has no illusions about the difficulty of the work ahead.
“I don’t mean to belittle the Human Genome Project — it was a remarkable achievement. But it is highly unlikely that we can apply a single, repetitious routine task like brute-force sequencing to map out the brain,” Bisby said.
“Instead, this is going to be expensive and much more complex in concept. And the research will need careful management because it’s going to be so diffuse.
“But there will be space in that diffuseness, space for Canadian researchers to join up and participate in the search for answers. They’re ready for it and we’ll be actively looking to make it happen.”