A White House Call To Action to Advance the BRAIN Initiative

President Barack Obama is introduced by Dr. Francis Collins

President Barack Obama is introduced by Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health, at the BRAIN Initiative event in the East Room of the White House, April 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

On April 2, 2013, President Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a Grand Challenge designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. 

Under this initiative, Federal agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are supporting the development and application of innovative, new technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function and its relationship to behavior. These scientific and technological advances could also lead to improvements in our ability to diagnose, treat, and even prevent diseases of the brain. Recently, DARPA, NIH, and NSF have made announcements of significant new solicitations or awards related to the BRAIN Initiative. Other Federal activities are being coordinated with the BRAIN Initiative through the National Science and Technology Council’s Interagency Working Group on Neuroscience.

Given the audacious nature of this goal, President Obama has called for the BRAIN Initiative to be an “all hands on deck” effort, involving not only the federal government but also companies, health systems, patient advocacy organizations, philanthropists, state governments, research universities, private research institutes, and scientific societies. Later this year, the White House will hold an event to feature the role of these organizations in achieving the President’s bold vision. These commitments might include support for activities that advance the goals of the BRAIN initiative, including:

  • Basic and translational research and shared facilities at universities and private research institutes;
  • Efforts by patient advocacy organizations to accelerate the development of diagnostics, treatments and cures;
  • Information technology infrastructure that improves researchers’ abilities to store, share, visualize, and analyze the huge volumes of data that will be generated by the BRAIN Initiative;
  • Pre-competitive collaborations involving industry, such as the recently announced Accelerating Medicines Partnership between NIH, 10 leading pharmaceutical companies, and several non-profit disease foundations;
  • Education and training programs to prepare the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, and to rapidly disseminate research tools and techniques developed by the BRAIN Initiative;
  • Regional “clusters” to accelerate economic growth, job creation, and innovation in the commercial neurotechnology domains, such as diagnostics, therapeutics, medical devices, and neuromorphic computing;
  • Well-designed incentive prizes, and more.

Do the activities of your company, nonprofit, or university align with the President’s call to action to catalyze investments and new collaborations that advance our understanding of the brain? Tell us about new or expanded activities you’re engaged in to support these goals at brain@ostp.gov by May 1, 2014.  Working together, we can make the BRAIN Initiative a huge success.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

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