BRAIN Initiative

New US investments in brain research, neurophotonics.

01 January 2015

On 30 September 2014, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced $46 million for 2015 in new grant awards to support the goals of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action.

The announcements took place at the White House BRAIN Conference, attended by partners from the research community, federal agencies, foundations, patient advocacy groups, private research institutes, companies, scientific societies, and individual scientists. The conference highlighted new commitments and investments by the federal government, the private sector, universities and nonprofits to support the goals of the BRAIN Initiative.

Logo for National Photonics InitiativeLeaders of the National Photonics Initiative (NPI), an alliance of top scientific societies uniting industry and academia to raise awareness of photonics, launched its Photonics Industry Neuroscience Group alongside officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) in conjunction with the conference. Members of the NPI industry group committed to invest upwards of $30 million in existing and future R&D spending over the next three years to advance optics and photonics technology in support of the BRAIN Initiative.

Members of the Neuroscience Group attended the conference, as did representatives of the NPI Steering Committee, including committee chairman Tom Baer.

“Launching our industry consortium alongside OSTP signifies our joint commitment to solving the brain’s greatest mysteries through optics and photonics innovation,” Baer said.

The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies that will enable researchers to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact at the speed of thought.

These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain records, processes, uses, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and shed light on the complex links between brain function and behavior.

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs also attended the White House conference. He noted the wide acceptance of the idea “that engineers, physical scientists, computation experts, neuroscientists, and practicing physicians have all contributions to make, and must learn to work productively together in a challenging climate for funding.”

The Alzheimer’s Institute (USA) estimates that by 2050, the cost of care for Americans with the disease will exceed $1 trillion per year. In light of this number, plus increasing care costs worldwide, “understanding how the brain works and developing therapies should be urgent national priorities,” Arthurs said.

To study how sensory information influences motor activity, scientists will watch brain circuits in fruit flies fluorescently light up as they move through the environment and process visual and odorant cues.
Credit: Marie Suver and Ainul Huda, University of Washington and Michael H. Dickinson, California Institute of Technology
Research in neurophotonics underway

Research under the BRAIN Initiative is already underway. For example, among those who have won National Institutes of Health BRAIN Awards in conjunction with 11 new technology projects are SPIE Fellow and Journal of Biomedical Optics editor-in-chief Lihong Wang of Washington University in St. Louis (USA), and SPIE Member Changuei Yang of California Institute of Technology (USA).

SPIE Fellow Lihong WangWang and his collaborators will test a way to image the electrical activity of neurons deep inside the brain, using photoacoustic tomography, a variation on ultrasound imaging he developed.

SPIE Member Changuei YangYang’s team plans to develop a light and sound system that will noninvasively shine lasers on individual cells deep within the brain and activate light-sensitive molecules to precisely guide neuronal firing.

Yang discussed his work in a video interview with the SPIE Newsroom last year.

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