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DARPA tags $50 million to increase understanding of brain function

Defense researchers will use $50 million under a new White House initiative to better understand the human brain, mapping the organ’s capabilities and understanding its functions.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a major part of the White House’s the “BRAIN” [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies] Initiative, unveiled by president Obama on April 2. The initiative, said the White House, is “a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.”

The new project, which is aimed at finding out how individual brain cells and neural circuits work together, was likened to the massive research effort to map the human genome.

The White House said the BRAIN Initiative launched with approximately $100 million in funding for research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

The BRAIN Initiative, said the White House, is aimed at creating investment in research and development to fuel innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

On April 2, after the White House announcement, DARPA said it intends to invest roughly $50 million in 2014 aimed at understanding the dynamic functions of the brain and demonstrating breakthrough applications based on its insights.

 “The President’s initiative reinforces the significance of understanding how the brain records, processes, uses, stores and retrieves vast quantities of information,” explained DARPA Director, Arati Prabhakar. “This kind of knowledge of brain function could inspire the design of a new generation of information processing systems; lead to insights into brain injury and recovery mechanisms; and enable new diagnostics, therapies and devices to repair traumatic injury.”

DARPA said it plans to explore two key areas:

  • New tools to measure and analyze electrical signals and the biomolecular dynamics that underpin brain function.
  • Abstract and model the vast spectrum of brain functions by examining its incredible complexity.

 

Like all potentially powerful new technologies, this research can lead to societal questions about its use, said DARPA, adding that is also plans to engage a broad set of experts to explore the issues.

DARPA plans to invest in  new programs to address the areas outlined and ongoing efforts designed to advance fundamental understanding of the brain’s dynamics to drive applications (Revolutionizing Prosthetics, Restorative Encoding Memory Integration Neural Device, Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery, Enabling Stress Resistance), manufacture sensing systems for neuroscience applications (Reliable Neutral Interface Technology, Blast Gauge), and analyze large data sets (Detection and Computational Analysis of Psychological Signals).

 

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