Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BRAIN Initiative Takes Shape

As I covered back in February, a new brain mapping initiative modeled on the Human Genome Project is in the works. The project's totally appropriate acronym, BRAIN, stands for “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.” Last week a report compiled by an advisory group was presented to the National Institutes of Health outlining recommendations for the project's overall approach.

The program should begin by generating a census of cell types and create structural maps of the brain, said committee co-chairs Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D., a professor at Rockefeller University in New York, and William Newsome, Ph.D., a professor at Stanford University, in a teleconference. “We’re seeking an understanding of the dynamics of the brain: where signals come from and how they are related to internal states,” said Newsome.

Work should begin with animal models, but human research data could come from patients undergoing diagnostic brain imaging or monitoring or those receiving deep brain stimulation or other technological interventions, the group suggested. Key to the suggested approach will be development of new or improved technologies to record brain activity and to manipulate brain circuits.

As I've mentioned before, I don't see consciousness as some sort of epiphenomenon of brain activity as many neuroscientists do, but I'm in agreement with the advisory group that this is exactly the right approach. While I'm convinced that there's more to consciousness than internal brain states, I believe that there is a substantial overlap in activity between mind and brain. Since our current tools measure the brain rather than the mind, understanding the physiology is where we have to begin this research.

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