Brain Map Project May Cost U.S. $4.5 Billion, Panel Says

Annual funding for President Barack Obama’s brain research initiative would quadruple the current allocation under recommendations by advisers to the project, providing a $4.5 billion investment spread over the next decade.

Obama directed an initial investment of $100 million when he announced his BRAIN Initiative in April 2013 to map the complex interactions between brain cells and neurological circuits. In a report released today, an advisory working group recommended $400 million in funding for the National Institutes of Health for each of the next five years, then $500 million annually for the five years after that.

The money would help advance research goals such as mapping the brain and understanding the biology of mental processes as well as for new technologies and tools to understand the brain’s wiring, the group said in the report. Findings may help advance treatment and prevention of diseases including Alzheimer’s, which affects about 5 million people in the U.S., and schizophrenia, diagnosed in 2.4 million people.

“Our budget estimates, while provisional, are informed by the costs of real neuroscience at this technological level,” the report said. “While we did not conduct a detailed cost analysis, we considered the scope of the questions to be addressed by the initiative, and the cost of programs that have developed in related areas over recent years.”

Obama has called the BRAIN initiative the “next great American project,” comparing it with the Human Genome Project, in which scientists announced in 2003 that they completed sequencing the human genetic code. The price tag may also be similar, if not more expensive than the $3 billion Congress appropriated for the human genome project, based on the working group’s funding estimates.

Not ‘Cheap’

“New technologies will be invented, new industries spawned,” Francis Collins, the NIH director, said today on a conference call. “This is a big challenge. It won’t be fast, it won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap.”

Other funds are being appropriated separately to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation as part of the mission, though those funds weren’t discussed in today’s report.

The report also detailed the project’s research priorities, including characterizing all cell types of the nervous system, mapping the entire brain system, recording neuronal activity, linking brain activity to behavior and disease and producing new methods of analysis.

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