First BRAINI Blueprint

Accepting the interim report of the institute’s working committee, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins approved initial areas of high-priority brain research to guide funding based on the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative. The initiative was announced in April by President Obama, who called for a total of $110 million in the 2014 fiscal year budget to support the effort, of which $40 million is expected to be allocated by NIH.

“It’s a great blueprint for getting started,” Collins said. The initiative aims to revolutionize studies of the human brain by building or improving tools that show the workings of the brain, from molecules to behavior. Its goal is to enhance understanding of the brain and improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of brain diseases.

On Monday, the NIH’s working group released its interim report, containing its highest-priority recommendations. The group seeks public comment before it produces a final report by summer 2014. Share your thoughts at

The working group listed six “themes” that are on the way to becoming “core principles” in the final report (much more detail is in the report):

  • Use appropriate experimental system and models.
  • Cross boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations.
  • Integrate spatial and temporal scales.
  • Establish platforms for sharing data.
  • Validate and disseminate technology.
  • Consider ethical implications of neuroscience research.

The group also identified nine “high priority research areas,” targets for funding in the next fiscal year.

  • Generate a census of cell types.
  • Create structural maps of the brain.
  • Develop large-scale network recording capabilities.
  • Develop tools for circuit manipulation.
  • Link neuronal activity to behavior.
  • Integrate theory, modeling, statistics, and computation with experimentation.
  • Delineate mechanisms underlying human imaging technologies.
  • Create mechanisms to enable collection of human data.
  • Disseminate knowledge and training (more details here).

During the advisory committee conference call on Monday, Dr. Collins emphasized that NIH’s money may not be spent evenly across all nine, and acknowledged that its $40 million budget would only stretch so far. It is not alone in this initiative, though: other funding agencies include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. In addition, the initiative’s private partners—including the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Kavli Foundation—also have commited to invest in target areas.

Does this sound like a useful roadmap to you? Share your thoughts at

– Nicky Penttila

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