Share Share this page

President Obama's Brain Mapping Initiative and Alzheimer's

 Brain diagram and map of areas and functions


While we already have the brain well mapped as to areas and functions as shown above, what Obama proposes to do is mapping each of the 86 billion brain cells called Neurons…and their trillions of nerve connections…a massive decade's long project.


It was in President Obama’sState of the Union” address in January, that President Obama indicated the White House would be announcing an initiative aimed at mapping the activity in the brain at the cellular level…(Considering that the average human brain has 86 billion brain cells called neurons that in turn are linked together by a nerve circuitry of (Synapses) Trillions of connections through which signals by way of electro-chemical discharges are transmitted…such a mapping would be a huge effort indeed…a decades long project has been indicated. Unlike other body cells, the brain cells do not regenerate and once they die, they are gone forever. That is why the brain of an Alzheimer’s victim is only 2/3rd normal size at time of death. I suspect that this is also the reason most of the early stem-cell frenzy seems to be fading away.)

On 2 April 2013 the Presidents “Brain Initiative” was announced and is outlined below.


“BRAIN Initiative Challenges Researchers to Unlock Mysteries of Human Mind”… (White House Blog dated 2 April 2013.

 President Obama“Today at the White House, President Obama unveiled the "BRAIN" Initiative -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 BRAIN Initiative — short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies — builds on the President’s State of the Union call for historic investments in research and development to fuel the innovation, job creation, and economic growth that together create a thriving middle class.

The Initiative promises to accelerate the invention of new technologies that will help researchers produce real-time pictures of complex neural circuits and visualize the rapid-fire interactions of cells that occur at the speed of thought. Such cutting-edge capabilities, applied to both simple and complex systems, will open new doors to understanding how brain function is linked to human behavior and learning, and the mechanisms of brain disease

In his remarks this morning, the President highlighted the BRAIN Initiative as one of the Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology to accomplish. The President called on companies, research universities, foundations, and philanthropies to join with him in identifying and pursuing additional Grand Challenges of the 21st century—challenges that can create the jobs and industries of the future while improving lives.

In addition to fueling invaluable advances that improve lives, the pursuit of Grand Challenges can create the jobs and industries of the future…

The BRAIN Initiative is launching 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.”


Listed near the end of the White House Blog was what was described as Four (4) possible long term outcomes.

"1. Better understand the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease to inform improved treatments, preventions, and even cures.

2. Reduce language barriers through technological advances in how computers interface with human thought.

3.  Develop solutions to prevent, treat or even reverse the harmful effect of PTSD and traumatic brain injury in returning war veterans.

4.  Create high tech jobs for Americans in cutting edge industries of the future.”


Comments by the Scientific Community indicate that not all are in agreement and suggest that the objectives are overstated:

Some scientists are skeptical that the amount of funding involved here will revolutionize their work and see Mr. Obama’s prioritization of this research as a political move…The president also compared the brain initiative to the prior research project on the human Genome. (13 year much simpler project) He also makes the startling claim that the Genome research has actually resulted in a return to the U.S. Economy of 140 dollars for each dollar invested in the research. I would guess that the government’s calculations that resulted in this figure were both imaginative and clever. Nothing whatever is said about the fact that the NIH is currently funding the Genome research to the tune of 9.7 Billion every year…a far cry from the Brain Initiative of 100 million. I sometimes wonder if President Obama has ever reviewed the NIH funding budgets that currently exceed 140 billion per year. There are 325 funding accounts grows every year and many are very questionable...On the point of a 140 to 1 investment return, I refer the reader to The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" published 4 April 2013:

“The president’s factoid—which he has asserted without citing a source—comes from a 2011 study…But the study’s conclusions have generated controversy...Nature, the prestigious scientific journal, published an article expressing skepticism about the results: “Critics of the report say that the methods used to calculate these numbers are flawed. For example, some of the costs of the project — such as the salaries of those working on it — are counted as benefits.”. Essentially, the study measures the “ripple effect” of government spending…much like a stone being thrown in a pond...But judgment calls by the researchers can affect how big that stone is — or how far those ripples are perceived to have gone. After all, imagine what the ratio would be if you assumed the initial investment by the Wright Brothers led to the aircraft industry — and the space shuttle…the study did not include $7 billion in government follow-on spending from 2003 to 2010…  to add that funding to the investment total would lower the ratio to about 60 to 1…The study also did not include funding provided by other governments, such as the United Kingdom, which was a major partner…As for the economic impact, that figure includes “direct effects,” “indirect effects” and “induced impacts” — each of which account for about a third of the total. So, again, the ratio would decline if you decide those later ripples are getting too far from the source…A study author ended with the comment that what the report really speaks of is …“initial U.S. spending as “foundational”—meaning it helped to generate that economic activity, not that the economic activity was a direct result from the government spending.”


This sounds more like a PR splash,” David Hovda, director -Brain Injury Research Center at UCLA, told NPR. “And I think we’re promising too much. I don’t think it’s going to be the big breakthrough that people think it will be,”


There are scientists who fully agree with the idea of the BRAIN research but feel the research, the challenges are tremendous and who look at the $100 million as only an initial investment. “This is a very open-ended agenda that is going to go on, I think, for decades,” - Alex Dromerick, - Brain Research - National Rehabilitation Hospital.


Donald Stein, an expert on brain injury and recovery at the Department ofEmergency Medicine at Emory University…”As a biomedical research scientist I am concerned about President Obama's broad new research initiative "to map the human brain."…”The Brain Activity Map is a very ambitious, and perhaps even noble, effort, and I am most definitely not against imaging or nanotechnology as tools for research. 'But, without specific goals, hypotheses or endpoints, the research effort becomes a fishing expedition. That is, if we throw enough technology at the project and get enough people involved, something is sure to come of it — maybe”


Note: A larger program is already well underway in Europe…the European Union are already actively pursuing what seems to be the same effort. European scientists have embarked on a 10-year, $1.5 billion Human Brain Project with support from the European Commission and 80 international research institutions. Why not join our European neighbors in a joint American-European effort?


What the Obama Brain Mapping and BRAIN Initiative is NOT!

 1.  This is not an Alzheimer’s Intensive or primary research program. There is no focus on Alzheimer’s…The word “Alzheimer’s” appears once in the entire discussion. There are seven (7) diseases or conditions of the brain mentioned that includes Alzheimer’s…Also mentioned specifically is Autism, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Traumatic Brain Injuries, and Schizophrenia…this is a long term program of Brain research which may or may not have benefits and fall outs that can be utilized in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s’

2.  This is not an immediate short term future benefits program. Whatever is developed in the research that can be of help or benefit in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s is not in the immediate future but in the long term….a decade or more…

3.  This Brain initiative will not likely be of any benefit to current victims of the disease of Alzheimer’s. It is a decade's long project…The average time from diagnosis to termination in Alzheimer’s is 8 years.   I remember well when June was first diagnosed in January 1998. We were told by Mayo and others that with all the research going on, we could expect a cure in 5-10 years…I thought June could be saved...we are now on the 15 year mark, June died after 11 years and frankly we are no closer to a cure now then we were at that time. The reason is simple…inadequate funding and research to find a cure…example…all we have to do is look at the AIDS people who received funding in the billions instead of the millions…AIDS is now a success story…June's death came as a bitter pill to was a clear display to me of what happens when our government (executive and legislative) is run by people who's number one master is selfishness or personal and poliitcal agenda's...or perhaps even ignorance.

4.  Not properly funded...The initial funding is so small that it can only be described as miserably underfundedwe are currently funding AIDS/HIV at the annual rate of 3.8 BILLION in the 2013 NIH budget and have for years…(over 7 times the funding given to Alzheimer's) they have already achieved success…AIDS/HIV is not even one of the 15 leading causes of death in the US but apparently gets whatever they want…meanwhile Alzheimer’s with the 5th leading cause of disease death stands with their hand out begging for funds and gets only 484 million dollars for the NIH budget year  of 2013…even less then the $503 million they received in the previous NIH budget year of 2012…Is everyone in this Government out to lunch or what? (The NIH Budget for 2013 has more than 140 Billion funding and has 235 Budget accounts49 of these accounts receive an average of 2.4 Billion dollars each…there are only 4 of these 49 accounts that represent a  higher rate of death then Alzheimer’s. These 4 receive an average of 2.36 Billion each or almost 5 times more than Alzheimer’s…We even fund obesity at almost double ($841 million) the amount that we fund Alzheimer’s.

I fail to understand the Alzheimer’s Association's current NIH funding posture…I have in front of me a two page notice from the Alzheimer’s Association (Dated Feb. 22, 2006) that has bold headlines in Red that reads: “Alzheimer’s Association Statement on President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2007 Budget”   This document takes President Bush to task because he changed his NIH Budget for Alzheimer’s from the fiscal year 2006 amount of $652 Million to $645 million in fiscal year 2007. (A decrease of 7 million dollars.)…and then goes on to list Bush’s other shortcomings...I was in complete agreement with them at the time...Alzheimer's funding needs to be dramatically increased and not decreased...This same organization has currently been silent now for years on the Obama NIH budget for Alzheimer’s that makes Bush look like a hero…Obama NIH Alzheimer’s budget for 2009 was 534 million, 2010 was 529 million, 2011 was 448 million, 2012 was 503 million and current 2013 budget is 484 million. Why the current silence?  The present NIH Alzheimer's funding is outrageous and not a word from the Alzheimer's Association.


NIH's Updates on Brain Mapping Initiative

NIH - 16 September 2013: The initiative was announced in April by Presiden Obama. He called for a total of $110 million in the 2014 fiscal year budget to support  the effort, of which $40 million is expected to be allocated by NIH.

“The time is right to exploit recent advances in  neuroscience research and technologies to advance our understanding of the  brain’s functions and processes and what causes them to go wrong in disease,”  said Dr. Collins. “The BRAIN Working Group has been on a fast track to identify  key areas of research for funding.  This group of visionary  neuroscientists has provided an excellent set of recommendations, and I am  eager to move these areas forward.”

  • Generate a census of brain cell types
  • Create structural maps of the brain
  • Develop new, large-scale neural network  recording capabilities
  • Develop a suite of tools for neural circuit  manipulation
  • Link neuronal activity to behavior
  • Integrate theory, modeling, statistics and  computation with neuroscience experiments
  • Delineate mechanisms underlying human brain  imaging technologies
  • Create mechanisms to enable collection of human  data for scientific research
  • Disseminate knowledge and training



 Reader's Comments

Alzheimer Society of B.C.  - Vancouver, British Columbia - (6 May 2013): "Thanks for sharing this, Stanton."


 June's Passing 

June Berg 1994

June passed away on 23 Octber 2008, near the end of an almost 11 year journey into the shadwos of Alzheimer's. June died from aspiration pneumonia, a common complication of Alzheimer's. June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website under the "In Memoriam" label - Click on:

"June K. (Rolstad) Berg - In Memoriam"