BRAIN Initiative Overview

Figure 7.3 from Chapter 7, "Neurobotanical Gardens", Trees of the Brain by Giorgio Ascoli


The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain.

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain.

This Hub’s goal is to become the most comprehensive source for information on the BRAIN Initiative by providing the people involved in Initiative related activities the opportunity to curate and showcase their work.  Hub members and those mentioned in a post can have direct input into posts by editing and commenting on existing posts as well as creating and recommending new posts. Members can also participate in and host live-streamed, interactive broadcasts.

Link Map

The BRAIN Initiative will accelerate the development and application of new technologies to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how individual brain cells and complex neural circuits interact. These technologies will open new doors to explore how the brain encodes, stores, and retrieves vast quantities of information, and the complex links between brain function and behavior.

The Link Map below (also accessible from the Quick Link icon on the far left of the menu bar) provides an easy way to access, from one PDF, information on the main BRAIN Initiative partners and agencies profiled in this Hub website. Click or tap on the name to go to the profile.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Web Information

BRAIN 2015 posts:

OSTP/White House BRAIN Initiative web pages:

NIH BRAIN Initiative web pages

NSF BRAIN Initiative web pages:

Kavli BRAIN Initiative web pages:

Twitter accoiunt:


National Institute of Health Materials

Why Is The BRAIN Initiative Needed?

With nearly 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, the human brain remains one of the greatest mysteries in science and one of the greatest challenges in medicine. Neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression, and traumatic brain injury, exact a tremendous toll on individuals, families, and society. Despite the many advances in neuroscience in recent years, the underlying causes of most of neurological and psychiatric conditions remain largely unknown, due to the vast complexity of the human brain. If we are ever to develop effective ways of helping people suffering from these devastating conditions, researchers will first need a more complete arsenal of tools and information for understanding how the brain functions both in health and disease.

In the last decade alone, scientists have made a number of landmark discoveries that now create the opportunity to unlock the mysteries of the brain. We have witnessed the sequencing of the human genome, the development of new tools for mapping neuronal connections, the increasing resolution of imaging technologies, and the explosion of nanoscience. These discoveries have yielded unprecedented opportunities for integration across scientific fields. For instance, by combining advanced genetic and optical techniques, scientists can now use pulses of light in animal models to determine how specific cell activities within the brain affect behavior. What’s more, through the integration of neuroscience and physics, researchers can now use high-resolution imaging technologies to observe how the brain is structurally and functionally connected in living humans.

While these technological innovations have contributed substantially to our expanding knowledge of the brain, significant breakthroughs in how we treat neurological and psychiatric disease will require a new generation of tools to enable researchers to record signals from brain cells in much greater numbers and at even faster speeds. This cannot currently be achieved, but great promise for developing such technologies lies at the intersections of nanoscience, imaging, engineering, informatics, and other rapidly emerging fields of science.

BRAIN Initiative

How Will The BRAIN Initiative Work At NIH?

Given the ambitious scope of this pioneering endeavor, it was vital that planning be informed by a wide range of expertise and experience. Therefore, NIH established a high level working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) to help shape this new initiative. This working group, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University) sought broad input from the scientific community, patient advocates, and the general public. Their report, released in June 2014 and enthusiastically endorsed by the ACD, articulated the scientific goals of the BRAIN Initiative and developed a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates.

Of course, a goal this audacious will require ideas from the best scientists and engineers across many diverse disciplines and sectors. Therefore, NIH is working in close collaboration with other government agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). Private partners are also committed to ensuring success through investment in the BRAIN Initiative.

Five years ago a project such as this would have been considered impossible. Five years from now will be too late. While the goals are profoundly ambitious, the time is right to inspire a new generation of neuroscientists to undertake the most groundbreaking approach ever contemplated to understanding how the brain works, and how disease occurs.

The Brain InitiativeSM Brochure (August  2014)


2015-03-12 03.16.47 pm

Scientific Goals

To achieve the long-term vision of the BRAIN Initiative, NIH is prioritizing seven scientific goals:

1- Parts list: Identify and provide experimental access to the different brain cell types to determine their roles in health and disease.

2- Maps: Generate circuit diagrams that vary in resolution from synapses to the whole brain.

3- The brain in action: Produce a dynamic picture of the functioning brain by developing and applying improved methods for large-scale monitoring of neural activity.

4- Causes: Link brain activity to behavior with precise interventional tools that change neural circuit dynamics.

5- Fundamental principles: Produce conceptual foundations for understanding the biological basis of mental processes through development of new theoretical and data analysis tools.

6- Human neuroscience: Develop innovative technologies to understand the human brain and treat its disorders; create and support integrated brain research networks.

7- From BRAIN Initiative to the brain: Integrate new technological and conceptual approaches produced in the other goals to discover how dynamic patterns of neural activity are transformed into cognition, emotion, perception, and action in health and disease.

What will it take to accomplish this grand challenge?

– Cross traditional neuroscience boundaries in interdisciplinary collaborations with geneticists, chemists, engineers, physicists, information scientists, and others
– Work with industry partners, who will bring experience developing products for use in patients

New technologies
– Integrate spatial and temporal scales, to go from cells to circuits as well as functions that can take milliseconds, minutes, or a lifetime
– Establish platforms to preserve and share data
– Validate and disseminate technologies

Rigorous standards and accountability
– Pursue human and non-human studies in parallel to reach scientific goals as expeditiously as possible
– Consider the ethical implications of research on the brain
– Ensure accountability to taxpayers and the community of basic, translational, and clinical neuroscientists

Substantial, sustained commitment
More than a 10-year research effort
– Years 1-5: technology development and validation
–  Years 6-10+: discovery-driven research to answer fundamental questions

The Challenges

The brain is the most complex organ in the body; it may take decades for discoveries in basic neuroscience to lead to new treatments and cures for brain disorders. Researchers must first develop the tools for studying the brain to gain a fundamental understanding of how it works. This knowledge will provide much needed insights for solving the medical mysteries plaguing patients. • • • • • In the 21st century, brain disorders — neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative — will be the most disabling and most costly chronic diseases. 5 million+ Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The cost of caring for these individuals is $200 billion+/year. Medicare and Medicaid spending on Alzheimer’s disease alone dwarfs the NIH’s total neuroscience research budget. 2.4 million+ Americans have schizophrenia. After 20 years of intense effort by the pharmaceutical industry, there are still no fundamentally new drugs. From 2000 through 2011, more than 235,000 service members were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. In 2009, an estimated 248,418 children (age 19 or younger) were treated in U.S. emergency departments for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or traumatic brain injury.


Cochlear implants help more than 200,000 people overcome profound deafness. The same leap forward may be possible to restore vision for those with profound blindness. By understanding how the neurons in the retina and brain process streams of information from the visual world, it should be possible to devise intelligent retinal prostheses or other devices to restore sight. Brain Computer Interfaces are being developed for patients paralyzed by injuries or stroke. But the technology needs better speed, reliability, and dexterity, which can come from better understanding of how the brain elicits targeted movements. Deep brain stimulation has been used as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and depression. The current technology could be improved through the development of electrodes capable of adapting stimulation parameters in real-time using feedback from neural activity, ultimately serving as sensors as well as stimulators.

Francis Collins, Director of NIH

BRAIN: Launching America’s Next Moonshot

First two paragraphs of Blog posted by Dr. Francis Collins, 9/30/14

Some have called it America’s next moonshot. Indeed, like the historic effort that culminated with the first moon landing in 1969, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is a bold, ambitious endeavor that will require the energy of thousands of our nation’s most creative minds working together over the long haul.

Our goal? To produce the first dynamic view of the human brain in action, revealing how its roughly 86 billion neurons and its trillions of connections interact in real time. This new view will revolutionize our understanding of how we think, feel, learn, remember, and move, transforming efforts to help the more than 1 billion people worldwide who suffer from autism, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other devastating brain disorders.

NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research

About Blueprint

The NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, known as “Blueprint”, is a collaborative framework that includes the NIH Office of the Director and 15 NIH Institutes and Centers that support research on the nervous system. By pooling resources and expertise, Blueprint identifies cross-cutting areas of research, and confronts challenges too large for any single Institute or Center.

Blueprint makes collaboration a day-to-day part of how the NIH does business in neuroscience, complementing the basic missions of Blueprint partners. During each fiscal year, the partners contribute a small percentage of their funds to a common pool. Since Blueprint’s inception in 2004, this pool has comprised less than 1 percent of the total neuroscience research budget of the partners.

The BRAIN Initiative℠

During 2012 and 2013, as the Grand Challenges (described below) moved forward successfully, the Blueprint Directors considered additional projects, including suggestions from both internal and external sources. Within the wider community beyond NIH there had also been recognition that recent technical advances have brought neuroscience research to a watershed moment. In April 2013, President Obama unveiled the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies℠ (BRAIN) Initiative, a coordinated effort among public and private institutions and agencies aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. NIH has a large role in this effort and Blueprint will be focusing its efforts and a large portion of its funding in 2014 on the initial high priority research areas established by the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director BRAIN Working Group.

Blueprint Grand Challenges

In 2009, the Blueprint Grand Challenges were launched to catalyze research with the potential to transform our basic understanding of the brain and our approaches to treating brain disorders.

  • The Human Connectome Project External link is an effort to map the connections within the healthy brain. It is expected to help answer questions about how genes influence brain connectivity, and how this in turn relates to mood, personality and behavior. The investigators are collecting brain imaging data, plus genetic and behavioral data from 1,200 adults. They are working to optimize brain imaging techniques to see the brain’s wiring in unprecedented detail.
  • The Grand Challenge on Pain supports research to understand the changes in the nervous system that cause acute, temporary pain to become chronic. The initiative is supporting multi-investigator projects to partner researchers in the pain field with researchers in the neuroplasticity field.
  • The Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network is helping small labs develop new drugs for nervous system disorders. The Network provides research funding, plus access to millions of dollars worth of services and expertise to assist in every step of the drug development process, from laboratory studies to preparation for clinical trials. Project teams across the U.S. have received funding to pursue drugs for conditions from vision loss to neurodegenerative disease to depression.

Blueprint Resources

Since its inception in 2004, Blueprint has supported the development of new resources, tools and opportunities for neuroscientists. For example, Blueprint supports several training programs to help students pursue interdisciplinary areas of neuroscience, and to bring students from underrepresented groups into the neurosciences. Blueprint has also funded efforts to develop new approaches to teaching neuroscience through K-12 instruction, museum exhibits and web-based platforms. From fiscal years 2007 to 2009, Blueprint focused on three major themes of neuroscience – neurodegeneration, neurodevelopment, and neuroplasticity. These efforts enabled unique funding opportunities and training programs, and helped establish new resources that continue to be available to researchers and the general public today. These resources include the following:

Further information about the Blueprint’s history and goals is available in a 2006 article in the Journal of Neuroscience External link.

Participating NIH Institutes

The ten National Institute of Health (NIH) Institutes and Centers who are part the BRAIN Initiative are:

National Eye Institute (NEI)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)

See this post for more information NIH Institutes and BRAIN Initiative

Multi-Council Working Group

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group met at the Neuroscience Center Building.

The meeting agenda included discussion of BRAIN research supported by NIH, neuroethics, and presentations on BRAIN-related activities supported by the four additional Federal agencies involved in The BRAIN Initiative: DARPA, NSF, the FDA, and IARPA.

See this post for more information on the BRAIN Multi-Council Working Group

Science Advisory Committee (ACD)

The Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) working group is a high-level working group established by NIH Director Francis Collins to help shape the vision of the BRAIN Initiative. The working group, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann (The Rockefeller University) and Dr. William Newsome (Stanford University), incorporated broad input from the scientific community, patient advocates, and the general public. Their report, released in June 2014 and enthusiastically endorsed by the ACD, articulated the scientific goals of the BRAIN Initiative and developed a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones, and cost estimates.

See this post for more information on ACD and its Final Report.

Awards and New Funding Opportunities

NIH announced its initial $46 million investment for the BRAIN Initiative reseach on September 30, 2014.

These projects lay the groundwork for visualizing the brain in action. More than 100 investigators in 15 states and several countries will work to develop new tools and technologies to understand neural circuit function and capture a dynamic view of the brain in action.

See this post for more information on BRAIN Awards and New Funding Opportunities

Participants beyond NIH

In addition to the National Institute of Health’s 10 Institutes and Centers spearheading the BRAIN Initiative, numerous other Federal agencies, companies, universities, private research centers, and universities are participating.

Over $300 million has been pledged to support the BRAIN Initiative. The five participating federal agencies are NIH, NSF, DARPA, FDA and IARPA. Major non-governmental commitments have come from numerous participants including the original private sector partners – Allen Institute, HHMI, and Kavli Foundation.

See this post for more information on the BRAIN participants beyond NIH

Articles about the BRAIN Initiative

The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics (cc)

Neuron June, 2012

This foundational article by A. Paul Alivisatos, Miyoung Chun, George M. Church, Ralph J. Greenspan, Michael L. Roukes, Rafael Yust was the catalytic vision statement for the BRAIN Initiative.


The function of neural circuits is an emergent property that arises from the coordinated activity of large numbers of neurons. To capture this, we propose launching a large-scale, international public effort, the Brain Activity Map Project, aimed at reconstructing the full record of neural activity across complete neural circuits. This technological challenge could prove to be an invaluable step toward understanding fundamental and pathological brain processes.

Nanoprobes, Wireless, and Synthetic Biology Technologies for the

Nanoprobes, Wireless, and Synthetic Biology Technologies for the BAM Project (Left) Silicon nanoprobe arrays (after Du et al., 2009b). (A) Flip-chip assembly scheme for connecting the silicon devices with printed circuit boards. (B) SEM micrograph of the rear section of a 50-μm-thick shaft array showing the multilayer stacked structure. Adjacent layers have a spacing of 100 μm, which is set by the thickness of the flexible cable. (C) Side view of the 50-μm-thick shaft array showing that the shafts are stress balanced and are able to retain approximately constant relative spacing. (Right) Synthetic biology approaches. (D) A voltage sensitive calcium channel influences the error rate of an engineered DNA polymerase. X marks sites of mismatch between “T” in the template strand (lower) and “G” new copy strand. Note scale of the various devices and cells.

Wikipedia entry for the BRAIN Initiative

The BRAIN Initiative is a proposed collaborative research initiative announced by the Obama administration on April 2, 2013, with the goal of mapping the activity of every neuron in the human brain. Based upon the Human Genome Project, the initiative has been projected to cost more than $300 million per year for ten years.

Obama’s goal of mapping the human brain poses big challenges to scientists

Washington Post 4/8/13 by Sara Reardon and Bob Holmes

But just how do you go about mapping a brain?

This is a question that two projects with similar lofty goals are already grappling with. The Human Brain Project aims to do it by creating a computer simulation of the entire brain. The Human Connectome Projectis using magnetic resonance imaging to track the fibers that connect different regions of the brain on the millimeter scale, giving a rough-grained road map of the brain.

Obama seeking to boost study of Human Brain

New York Times 2/17/13 by John Markoff

Scientists with the highest hopes for the project also see it as a sway to develop the technology essential to understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.

Also from NY Times 4/2/15 by John Markoff, Obama to unveil Initiative to map the human brain

NIH announces $46 million in grants for new BRAIN initiative projects

Washington Post 9/30/14 by Any Ellis Nutt

The first projects to receive funding under the Obama administration’s brain research initiative include the creation of a wearable scanner to image the brain in motion and the development of tools such as radio waves, nanoparticles and genetically modified viruses to remotely target activity deep in the brain.

Brainstormers: Obama’s big research pushkicks off with a meeting of the minds

Washington Post 1/2/15 by Any Ellis Nutt

With a second round of funding to go out soon for the U.S. effort, the goals are both short- and long-term and include creating structural maps of the brain, linking neuron activity to human behavior and using new data to develop theories on how the healthy human brain works.

The only way to achieve these goals, neuroscientists say, is to develop new tools. So among the items on NIH’s wish list are lasers, radio waves and genetically modified viruses that would enable researchers to record wide swaths of brain activity.

When a committee chose the first group of research projects, there was essentially one criterion: “What are we willing to take a risk on?” said James O. Deshler, a deputy director at the NSF.

Brain Initiative discussed on Charlie Rose Show (video)

Charlie welcomes a distinguished panel to discuss President Obama’s BRAIN initiative, including Eric Kandel of Columbia University, Thomas Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health, Story Landis of the National Institute of Health, Cornelia Bargmann of Rockefeller University and William Newsome of Stanford University. This clip includes the opening setup and the conclusion during which the panelists each expresses what results they would like, or hope, to see. This 14th episode concludes the second season of the Charlie Rose Brain Series. Uploaded by Steve Stockdale.   Watch the full episode at:


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