On June 5, three scientists spoke on Capitol Hill about brain mapping research and how the proposed decade-long BRAIN Initiative could impact the neuroscience field. The briefing was part of a series organized by AAAS and supported by the Dana Foundation, designed to educate members of Congress and their staffs about topical issues in neuroscience.
Presenting at the meeting were Dana Alliance member David Van Essen, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; Michael Roukes, Ph.D., a professor of physics, applied physics, and bioengineering at California Institute of Technology; and Emery Brown, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT.
The BRAIN Initiative has been compared to the Human Genome Project (HGP), which successfully identified most of the DNA base pairs that make up human genes, by coordinating researchers and standardizing the technology needed to do so. The BRAIN Initiative would also help standardize technologies for brain observations and make them more widely available, Van Essen said. But unlike the HGP, its work would never really be done. Humans have a finite set of genes, but there is an almost infinite number of ways the brain can be organized. Each person’s brain is folded differently, and has a different pattern of brain wiring. That’s true even for identical twins, who share the same genes, he said.
For details on the event and the discussion, please read the AAAS write-up, which includes presentation slides from Van Essen and Roukes. You can also read about previous briefings on early-onset dementia, mental illness in young adults, and the links between poverty and brain development.
– Ann L. Whitman