What is the BRAIN Initiative?

The BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) is a major research program recently announced by the National Institute of Health.  Why is it important? What neurological problems does it hope to solve?  Through a series of short talks and Q&A, three experts will give you their take and discuss their pioneering work in tackling some of the biggest mysteries of the brain.

Understanding the structure and function of the human brain, the maze of 86 billion neurons and the 100 trillion connections between them, would be a difficult enough task if the human brain were static. But it’s not. It’s ever changing, varying not only from person to person, but within an individual, from day to day.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) allocated $46 million in FY 2014 and $81.4 million in FY 2015for the project, and is joined by four other federal agencies—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA),National Science Foundation (NSF)and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Private corporations, foundations, universities and patient advocacy groups bring total investments in theBRAIN Initiative to over $300 million so far.

Looking at the brain’s cell types, which include not only severalvarieties of neurons but also glia, a family of cells that may outnumber neurons, and mapping ‘connectomes,’ or neural circuits that can weavethrough multiple regions of the brain, are a goal of the BRAIN Initiative. This basic research, which will take the use of many new scientific tools, such as methodsthatenable researchers to activate cells or networksof cellsinside a living animal, which will helpthem understand cellroles and network dynamics, eventually linking them to behavior.

Ultimately, the BRAIN Initiative’s goal is to create a map of a dynamic, living brain. While this project has been compared to the Human Genome Project, itis far larger in scope and sheer amount of data collectionneeded. For example, the data contained in an entire human genome is about 3.3 GB of data; the data for 1/1,000 of a mouse brain is two million GB of data.

Scientists eventually hope to gain a better understanding of brain function, and with it, better insight into neurological and psychological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, addiction, and traumatic brain injury. These conditionsaffect tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Better treatments for neurological conditions could be developed with a better understanding of the brain.


Dr. John Maunsellis the Alfred D Lasker Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as the Director of the Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior. He studies how the brain processes visual signals fromthe eyes, with special emphasis on how that processing varies depending on the task being performed. Maunsell received his Ph.D. in biology from the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Bobby Kasthuriis a Neuroscience Researcher at Argonne National Labs and an Assistant Professor (adjunct) in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago. As a post-doctoral researcher, hedeveloped an automated approach to large volume serial electron microscopy (‘connectomics’). The Kasthuri lab isexploring the use of high-energy x-rays from synchrotron sources for mapping brains in their entirety. He holdsan M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine and a D.Phil. from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Tom Macekis a Scientific Director of Clinical Sciences CNS at Takeda Development Center Americas. For the last 16 years, his primary focus has been the clinical development of new medications for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders.  Prior to joining Takeda, he was Director of Clinical Neurosciences at Pfizer. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan (Pharm.D.) and Emory University (Ph.D.). He is a former clinical adjunct assistant professor at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University Eugene Appelbaum Colleges of Pharmacy. He is a founding member of The International Society for CNS Clinical Trials and Methodology (ISCTM.)

Moderator:Norm Petersonis the Director of Government Relations at Argonne National Laboratory. In this position, he interacts with governmental agencies and develops collaborations between industries, universities, and other technology organizations. He is also responsible for the facilitation of laboratory agreements and interactions with governmental agencies and foreign research institutions. Mr. Peterson has served as an advisor to a number of states, universities, and management consulting organizations, which have developed technology transfer and economic development programs.

This program is supported by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust, and is presented in partnership with Argonne National Laboratoryand the Chicago Society for Neuroscience.

DETAILS: Thursday,October 1st,Northwestern University, 303 E. Superior St., HughesAuditorium, Chicago IL 60611. Doors open at 5:00 pm, social hour with wine and cheese prior to program start. Program runs 6:00 pm–7:30pm. This program is FREE andopen to the public.

Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-is-the-brain-initiative-tickets-18437969463

Discounted parking is available to the first 50 attendeesat the 202 E Huron parking garage. Ask at the C2ST registration table, and you can purchase a ticket to exit the garage at a discounted rate.

Can’t join us live? Then join us via live stream, or watch the program at your leisure at a later date on our YouTube channel, C2ST TV. Streaming starts at 6pm https://www.youtube.com/user/C2STvideos/videos

Questions? Contact Andrea Poet at apoet@c2st.org or 312-567-5795.

ABOUT C2ST: Chicago Council on Science and Technology is a not-for-profit, membership-based organization that brings researchers and scientists out of the lab, directly to you. We work with national laboratories, leading academic institutions and museums to educate the public on issues of critical scientific importance. In an age when barely one in four voting adults meet a basic level of scientific literacy, we aim to reignite an excitement and passion for science and technology, and remind Chicagoans of the quality and quantity of R&D that takes place in their backyard

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