In 2009, President Obama told the press that his administration will “restore science to its rightful place.” A list of 100 examples of this “restoration”, called the IMPACT REPORT, was published on June 21, 2016 by the White House press office. Example #45 on this list is the April 2013 launch of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which was begun in order “to develop neuro-technologies [to] uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” This Initiative, funded jointly by the Federal government and private enterprises, was news when it first was started, but since then there have been few stories in the news and few statements from Obama himself discussing the Initiative’s studies or its findings.
Despite the lack of discussion about the program in the media, online you can find the benefits of the Initiative and its recent, but limited, successes. In March of this year, Obama proposed to increase the “Federal investment in the BRAIN Initiative from $300 million in fiscal year 2016 to $434 million in fiscal year 2017.” (In fiscal year 2013, when program started, BRAIN’s budget was $100 million.) Though the 2016 budget of $300 million seems high already, for the extensive studies the Initiative does, $434 million may be more appropriate. This funding for BRAIN has been provided by 5 federal agencies, DARPA, NIH, NSF, IARPA, and FDA, who also run the studies. In 2017, the President plans to increase this to 6 federal agencies, by adding the Department of Energy.
In looking through the National Institute of Mental Health, a subset of the NIH, BRAIN Initiative’s Science News page, I found only 4 press releases for 4 studies completed since 2013. Presumptively, that is because comprehensive medical studies often take years to complete and/or more completed study results can be found on other government websites. More financing may mean that the program can start and eventually complete additional studies, perhaps more quickly because it can add more manpower.
The study I found most intriguing was a study funded both by BRAIN and the Human Connectome Project, and completed in 2015, entitled “Our Brain’s Secrets to Success”. This study examines the cortex of 461 volunteers to see “how the human brain contributed to our success.”
As of July 7, the program has reported the results of one study in 2016, “Ketamine Lifts Depression via a Byproduct of its Metabolism,” with the purpose of finding a new, more effective anti-depressant by using metabolite, a byproduct of ketamine. (Ketamine is already being used for this purpose in many hospitals.) The results of this study, published in May, found that ketamine’s use as an antidepressant worked well in rats, but, while human trials with ketamine quickly relieved patient’s depression, it did not have lasting effects.