Mapping Our Mission

Among all the topics President Obama addressed in his State of the Union address earlier this month, perhaps the most intriguing was his call to invest in brain research. In a moment reminiscent of John Kennedy’s call for the nation to land a man on the moon, Obama said the government should invest in the best ideas in brain science.

Invoking the example of the Human Genome Project, which returned $140 to the U.S. economy for every dollar invested, the president said, “Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s. They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”

According to an article in the New York Times, the administration is planning to propose a decade-long scientific project that would examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity. The project would include federal agencies, private ­foundations, and teams of neuroscience researchers. The article said that the project would be called the Brain Activity Map and that funding, if approved by Congress, would be on the order of $3 billion over 10 years. Federal entities such as the National Institutes of Health, DARPA, and the National Science Foundation would participate, along with private foundations and commercial ventures.

While it is far too early to assess the likelihood of funding approval for this endeavor, it would not be a bad idea for neurotechnology professionals to contact their congressional representatives to support the idea of greater funding for neurotechnology research. Even in a depressed economy, successful companies need to continue to invest in research and development, a point that should not be lost on conservatives who believe the federal government should be run more like a business entity.

It is also worth pointing out that other nations are pursuing neurotechnology projects that might ultimately impact the competitiveness of U.S. firms in the same market. For example, the Bionic Vision Australia project, funded to the tune of A$42 million by the Australian government, may represent the closest competition to Second Sight Medical Products, whose Argus II retinal implant was recently approved for sale in the U.S. [see article p3]. Other examples include the European NeuWalk project, a €9 million effort to restore locomotion to individuals with spinal cord injury, and IMPACT, a €5 million European effort to develop improved DBS devices.

However it develops, the attention given to the Brain Activity Map project, and to neurotechnology research in general, is a positive development for our industry.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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