President George Bush designated the 1990s as the “Decade of the Brain” to “enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research.” Yet, in the early 90s, even with this presidential proclamation, there was not much information about the brain available to the general public. Outreach was still uncommon and neuroscience funding had even decreased.
In response, thirty of the United States’ preeminent neuroscientists met at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) to discuss the progress and promise of brain research. Led by James D. Watson, Ph.D., co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and David Mahoney, Dana Foundation chairman at the time, attendees of the meeting vowed to change the landscape of public support for neuroscience. Shortly after, those scientists became founding members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI), an organization comprised of neuroscientists dedicated to advancing public awareness about the progress and promise of brain research. On this day in 1993, the creation of DABI was announced at a press conference in Washington, DC.
A quarter of a century later, DABI has grown to more than 580 neuroscientists in over 30 countries, including 16 Nobel Laureates. New members must have high credibility and scientific expertise as neuroscientists or clinicians, motivation to participate in outreach programs, and a strong commitment to public engagement. DABI has also recently become global, welcoming its first members from outside the United States and Canada, with new members from Europe, India, Japan, Chile, and China, among other places.
DABI’s flagship initiative was the establishment of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) in 1996. The goal of this one-week celebration is to connect groups from different sectors—academic, government, business, and advocacy—and unite them through their shared interest in the brain and brain research. The first BAW had 160 participating organizations, all located in the United States. The campaign is now an internationally recognized program, with over 4,800 partner organizations in 43 countries in 2018.
DABI has also expanded the ways it reaches people. In addition to print materials and public programming, it has developed an extensive assortment of current and credible online materials, written in lay language and easily accessed by people around the world. Fact sheets, booklets, lesson plans, and puzzles on a variety of brainy topics are available for students of all grade levels; adults; and seniors, as part of our Successful Aging & Your Brain program. Echoing DABI’s new global focus, most resources are available in multiple languages.
Since its formation, DABI has played a large role in making information about the brain and brain research more obtainable for the general public. It remains a trusted source for scientifically vetted information worldwide. Today, we celebrate the vision of the founding members and the breadth of its reach. Commenting on the DABI 25th anniversary, Ed Rover, current DABI chairman, said:
Anniversaries are a time to celebrate and reflect. Twenty-five years ago, we encouraged scientists to come out from their labs and talk to the public in language they would understand about what the scientists were doing and why it was important. Today, the work of Alliance members and their commitment to public education has made the Alliance a leading disseminator of information on the brain. We have helped millions of people worldwide understand the personal and public benefits of brain research. After all, to quote founding chairman David Mahoney, “all that we are, and all that we hope to be, is centered in the human brain.” We have come a long way, but the challenge continues.
Congratulations to the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives for 25 years of hard work! We look forward to the continuing journey.
– Ali Chunovic