Politics this week: Obama’s BRAIN Initiative
Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, April 26, 2013 07:04
On National Autism Awareness Day, April 2, President Obama announced his $100 million plan to fund programs that would help neuroscientists map the human brain.
The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative can allow for better understanding of the brain and lead to cures for genetic brain disorders, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s.
“As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom,” Obama said. “But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter sitting between our ears.”
The plan, part of the 2014 budget, would stimulate programs to learn more about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). According to Autism Speaks, a non-profit dedicated to autism awareness and research for ASDs, autistic individuals are characterized by intellectual disability, motor coordination issues, attention deficit, and physical health issues such as sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal complications. ASDs range in severity from Asperger’s syndrome, with milder symptoms, to more severe disorders that can hamper social development.
Even Republicans, who in the past couple years have tried to cut other government-funded research organizations, are backing Obama’s plan. Newt Gingrich, a 2012 Republican primary presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House, praised the plan.
“President Obama is taking a very important step toward the most dramatic breakthroughs in human health,” Gingrich said. “Brain research is vital for Autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury, mental health, and a host of other concerns.”
How will it affect Lafayette students?
“The BRAIN project will open up a number of opportunities for our students and faculty to explore important functional relationships between genes, neurons, neuronal circuits and behavior,” Acting Chair of Lafayette’s Neuroscience Program Lisa Gabel said. “Neuroscientists have made great strides in developing innovative techniques and technologies to expand our knowledge of the inner-workings of the brain, and this project will potentially accelerate this growth and open up new doors for our students as they move into the next phase of their careers.”
Gabel and Obama are in agreement. “There’s this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama said. “And the BRAIN initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think, and how we learn, and how we remember. And that knowledge could be…will be…transformative.”