Articles on the BRAIN Initiative Spring 2015

The $5 Billion Race to Map Your Brain

Ozy April 29. 2015 by Chana Schoenberger

Some excerpts below.

In this Columbia University lab, what are the fastest lasers money can buy doing? They’re shooting infrared light into a mouse’s brain as it runs on a rotating trackball while watching a movie. No, this is not video game research. And for those readers to whom this experiment does seem fairly typical, don’t be fooled: This test, which examines neuron response, is just one of the questions at the heart of a $5 billion so-called BRAIN Initiative aimed at “revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain.”

Rafael Yuste, Source: Columbia University

Rafael Yuste, Source: Columbia University

To move ahead, the initiative is focused on determining how many types of cells are in the brain. (Amazingly, scientists don’t yet know this). It is also pushing for the development of new tools to understand brain circuitry and designing new imaging technologies, says Greg Farber, who co-heads the National Institutes of Health’s coordinating committee for the program.

This agenda matters, Farber explains, because until experts learn how the brain functions normally, they won’t be able to solve autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s or wartime injuries that cause post-traumatic stress disorder, among other mental issues. There are at least 250,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with traumatic brain injuries, many of whom suffer aftereffects, and doctors will continue to be at a loss when it comes to treating these casualties if they don’t understand how the brain is supposed to work.

Obama’s BRAIN Initiative yields first study results

Reuters April 30, 2015 by Sharon Begley

The mouse walked, the mouse stopped; the mouse ignored a bowl of food, then scampered back and gobbled it up, and it was all controlled by neuroscientists, researchers reported on Thursday.

Because the receptor does not respond to other molecules, including natural ones in the brain, the only way to activate the neurons is via the manmade one. DREADDs allow scientists to manipulate neurons without implanting anything in the brain.

DREADDs, invented about a decade ago, had been used to turn neurons on or off, but not both. DREADDs 2.0 are the first to do that, scientists led by Bryan Roth of the University of North Carolina reported in Neuron.

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