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The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, announced by President Obama on Tuesday, aims to develop new data processing and imaging technologies to help scientists improve their understanding of how brain function is linked to human behavior and learning. It will also address the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and other neurological disorders.
The White House plans to provide $100 million in funding in the first year of the program, half of which will come from DARPA. The agency, which is part of the Department of Defense, is interested in brain research as it relates to post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as brain injuries and recovery.
DARPA said new tools are needed to measure and analyze electrical signals and the biomolecular dynamics that support brain function. Given its mission as a defense research agency, DARPA positioned its involvement in the scientific initiative as supporting national security.
[ Wondering what the government's brain research entails? Read Obama Brain Mapping Project Tests Big Data Limits. ]
"This kind of knowledge of brain function could inspire the design of a new generation of information processing systems; lead to insights into brain injury and recovery mechanisms; and enable new diagnostics, therapies and devices to repair traumatic injury," DARPA director Arati Prabhakar said in a written statement.
DARPA has seven programs underway that tie into the BRAIN initiative. They include a project called Revolutionizing Prosthetics that seeks to advance upper-limb prosthetic technology. So far, the program has resulted in the development of two prototype prosthetic arm systems, which will get added functionality as research progresses.
DARPA's Restorative Encoding Memory Integration Neural Device (REMIND) program is geared to determining how short-term memory is encoded to help soldiers recover from memory loss, while its Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate Injury Recovery (REPAIR) program aims to create a neuroscience community that uses brain models to treat injuries.
Other areas of investment and research by DARPA include the impact of stress on the brain; helping soldiers with amputations, spinal cord injuries, and neurological diseases; understanding traumatic brain injury by measuring the severity of blasts to which soldiers have been exposed; and developing analytical tools to assess soldiers' psychological state.
DARPA acknowledged that there are "societal questions" that could arise about research surrounding these technologies. The agency said it plans to work with experts to address these issues.
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