The Obama administration will soon unveil a monumental decade-long scientific project to examine the workings of the human brain and build an incredibly detailed map of its activity, which (who knows) may help scientists get a better idea of what makes us tick.
If all goes well, the Brain Activity Map endeavor could lead researchers to better understanding diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and perhaps help in developing new therapies for a host of mental illnesses.
And the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science will be a major player in the groundbreaking effort.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama, as The New York Times reported, cited brain research as an example of how the government should "invest in the best ideas. Obama highlighted the economic effects of the gene mapping project, saying "Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy -- every dollar."
As the The Times noted:
The initiative, if successful, could provide a lift for the economy. "The Human Genome Project was on the order of about $300 million a year for a decade," said George M. Church, a Harvard University molecular biologist who helped create that project and said he was helping to plan the Brain Activity Map project. "If you look at the total spending in neuroscience and nanoscience that might be relative to this today, we are already spending more than that. We probably won't spend less money, but we will probably get a lot more bang for the buck."
Scientists involved in the planning said they hoped that federal financing for the project would be more than $300 million a year, which if approved by Congress would amount to at least $3 billion over the 10 years.
The initiative will be organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Among the participants are the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation -- along with private foundation likes Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., and Seattle's own Allen Institute for Brain Science.
Launched in 2003 with a $100 million donation from Paul Allen, the Allen Institute is a nonprofit medical research organization whose mission it is to understand how the brain works and discover new ways to address questions about brain health and disease.
Clay Reid, a senior investigator at the Institute and a professor at Harvard's medical school, told The Daily Weekly that the Institute has been working on large-scale brain mapping projects for the past ten years.
"This project will be very complimentary to our own. The goals are quite similar," said Reid.