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President Proposes A Multi-Year BRAIN Initiative with an Initial $100 Million in FY2014 Funding

Legislative Update
April 2, 2013

Today, in advance of issuing his proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget on April 10, President Obama announced that he will seek $100 million in funding for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The proposal, which he previewed in his February 12 State of the Union Address, includes in FY2014 $40 million for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $50 million at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and $20 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The federal government would partner with companies, foundations, and private research institutions that are already investing in relevant neuroscience research. The Initiative would be guided by the Federal Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to explore the ethical, legal, and societal implications raised by this Initiative and other recent advances in neuroscience.

On its Web site, the NIH describes the Initiative as follows:

By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, researchers will be able to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space. This picture will fill major gaps in our current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store, and retrieve vast quantities of information.
NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D, who introduced the President, was available for questions later in the day through a Webcast. He acknowledged that NIH was already investing about $5.5 billion in neuroscience research, primarily through the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, which engages 14 NIH Institutes and Centers (I/Cs), including the National Eye Institute (NEI). He stated that NIH’s proposed $40 million funding would come from three sources: the Blueprint, other I/Cs, and from the Director’s discretionary fund. In discussing the importance of “brain mapping” to understanding complex biological systems, he cited the visual system as just one example.

Dr. Collins announced that NIH will establish a high-level working group co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University) to define detailed scientific goals for the NIH’s investment and to develop a multi-year scientific plan for achieving those goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates. He stated that NIH planned to have initial feedback by mid-2013, with an operating plan by mid-2014.

Although the President proposes a budget, Congress ultimately passes final appropriations bills, so funding for this multi-year Initiative is not certain. In reacting to the President’s proposal, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) expressed support but commented that it should be funded by redirecting money from social and political science research programs, which was also alluded to in a statement from Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office. Leader Cantor has also announced that, shortly, the House would introduce a new bill, the “Kids First Research Act,” which would increase NIH funding by $200 million in order to support new research into pediatric diseases like autism, paying for it by redirecting public funding from presidential campaigns.