The Obama administration wants to make a huge investment in mapping the human brain, according to The New York Times. How can they get the most bang for their buck? We have details on three future technologies that are being eyed by the scientists behind the bold proposal.
The U.S. already has one big brain-mapping effort under way, the Human Connectome Project, which aims to map the connections between regions of the human brain. The new project would go beyond this static depiction and map the activity of individual neurons in real time.
“All the really interesting features of the brain — language, perception, cognition, the mind — emerge from collections of neurons interacting with each other in ways we don’t understand,” said neuroscientist John Donoghue of Brown University, one of the architects of the proposed project. It’s those interactions, the electrochemical blips coursing through networks of interconnected neurons, that the new Brain Activity Map project aims to capture.
The Connectome project focuses mostly on static images of the brain. Although it does include some measures of brain activity, the fMRI scans it will use provide a view that’s something like that of a city seen from an airplane window. What the scientists behind the proposed Brain Activity Map want instead are detailed street maps with real-time traffic info. Ideally, they want to record every blip of every neuron in a network of thousands, or even millions.
The scientists hope they’ll get as much as $3 billion over the next decade to build a new set of dream tools for studying how the human brain works when it’s healthy and what goes wrong in disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. Here are three ideas they’ve discussed, all in various stages of development.
“Sure, they sound far-fetched,” Donoghue said. “But we’re on the cusp of being able to do them.”