April 4, 2013

Cornell scientists help map national BRAIN initiative

A $100 million federal research initiative aimed at revolutionizing understanding of the human brain received key scientific direction from researchers at Cornell’s Kavli Institute for Nanoscale Science.

On April 2, President Barack Obama unveiled the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative, launched with $100 million to be allocated in fiscal year 2014.

Similar in spirit to the Human Genome Project, BRAIN will help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and prevent brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury, according to a White House press release. It will also accelerate development and application of new technologies to produce dynamic pictures of the brain’s cells and complex neural circuits, opening new doors to exploring the brain’s many intricate processes.

In creating the ambitious initiative, the White House called upon such agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as such private-sector partners such as the Kavli Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, to help shape the initiative’s goals.

Over the last year, Cornell’s Kavli Institute, led by director Paul McEuen, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics, and Kavli member Chris Xu, associate professor of applied and engineering physics, participated in several meetings with scientists to define challenges and opportunities related to studying the brain, which formed the basis for recommendations for the initiative, McEuen said.

“We helped to identify emergent optical and electronic techniques useful for brain imaging,” said McEuen, who attended Obama’s April 2 briefing on BRAIN.

Mapping the brain is already on the minds of many Cornell scientists. A new MRI facility in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, for example, will facilitate cross-college collaborations in this area.

More information is available online.