Obama's BRAIN initiative: Impact on neuroinformatics and personalized medicine

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The announcement made earlier this month by the Obama administration, that the government plans to make a founding investment of $100 million next year to kick off a multi-year initiative to map the human brain, will result in substantial ramifications for the field of neuroinformatics and the future of personalized medicine.

The proposed effort to map the brain’s cells and neural connections in entirety, called the BRAIN initiative, will make strides towards understanding cause and treatment of diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and brain injury.

Yet some of the biggest effects of the project will be seen in the advancement of computational technology and data analysis. The acronym BRAIN stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, which makes clear that the project will push the technological envelope to develop equipment and computational capability to allow scientists to track electrical activity at the micro level of individual cells and connections.

New methods for sensing and recording electrical activity in the brain will need to be developed in order for researchers to track brain processing patterns in greater number and speed, ideally “at the speed of thought”, said the White House.

The field of neuroinformatics will be greatly affected as new IT solutions for analyzing massive sets of brain-related data will need to be developed in order to facilitate the collection of data from trillions of points in the brain. The implications of the increased data-crunching ability will no doubt extend far beyond neuroscience to affect the manner in which big data and computational processing is handled across various industries.

Down the line, just as advancements in whole genome sequencing have opened the door for widespread access to genetic testing as a method to manage personal health, mapping the human brain could introduce individualized brain maps as another accessible tool to understand, prevent and treat disease at the level of an individual patient.