Salk Institute key player in Obama’s BRAIN initiative

LA JOLLA, Calif. — The La Jolla-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies will be a key player in a major initiative announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama to learn more about brain function.

The president said he would set aside $100 million in the next fiscal year’s budget for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Scientists at Salk plan to map the brain’s neural networks and figure out how they interrelate, to understand how the brain operates in both healthy and diseased states.

They will also explore changes that occur in the brain in aging, to lay the groundwork for prevention and treatment of age-related neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Terrence Sejnowski, chairman of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk. said the BRAIN Initiative will help scientists visualize brain activity involved in seeing, hearing and storing memories.

“This initiative is a boost for the brain like the Human Genome Project was for the genes,” he said. `This is the start of the million neuron march.”

Sejnowski attended the announcement of the initiative in Washington, D.C.

Obama referred to the Human Genome Project in his State of the Union speech and said it was time to support the same level of research in neuroscience.

Funding will be distributed through the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

Research organizations also involved in the initiative are the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md., and the Kavli Foundation in Oxnard.