Brain Tech Projects Get $46 Million in Funding

A scientist is working with equipment.
A focus of the first years of the BRAIN Initiative is the development of new tools for exploring how neural activity in the brain control thoughts, feelings and movements. (Image credit: NIH)

Developing wearable brain scanners and devising tools to watch a brain's signaling chemicals in real time are among the 58 research projects that now have funding, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced today (Sept. 30).

These and other projects received the first wave of funding in the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, the U.S. government's plan to develop the technologies needed to map the human brain.

The NIH awarded $46 million in grants to these projects, which will focus on developing "transformative technologies" that can help scientists gain a deeper understanding of the brain, NIH Director Francis Collins told reporters today.

"There’s a big gap between what we want to do in brain research and the technologies available to make exploration possible," Collins said. [5 Crazy Technologies That Are Revolutionizing Biotech]

The 58 projects involve more than 100 researchers in several countries and fall into six categories, which include classifying brain cell types, devising tools to study them and tying their activity to brain functions such as thoughts, feelings and movement.

Some projects focus on using light and sound to affect neurons deep in the brain, while others aim to fine-tune the information that brain-imaging techniques can reveal.

"Some of the projects here have the ability to transform how we study the brain, and new technologies and industries will likely be spawned," Collins said.

Moreover, the new insights could ultimately lead to "new treatments and even cures discovered for devastating disorders and diseases of the brain," Collins said.

The BRAIN initiative will add to the existing research on individual brain diseases by studying the organ as a whole, said Cornelia Bargmann, a professor at Rockefeller University and a member of the working group planning the BRAIN initiative at the NIH.

"Our brains are not individual little parts. We have a coherent and unified perception of the world, the result from all of those parts working together," Bargmann said.

The initiative was launched in April 2013 by President Barack Obama. Four federal agencies — the NIH, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — committed more than $100 million to the Initiative for fiscal year 2014.

Later today, the Obama administration will make its own announcement about the progress made after the launch of the initiative, and the federal agencies, the universities and corporations that have recently joined the project.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.