Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: California Recall Election Results | Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

President Obama Taps San Diego Neuroscientists for Brain Mapping Initiative

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

What do GPS technology, the Internet and CT scans have in common?

They all came about in part through government funding. Federal research money has helped scientists answer questions that would've seemed outlandish just decades ago — questions like: what's in the soil on Mars?

Scientists still don't fully understand what's going on inside the human brain. But thanks to a robust White House initiative, local researchers could help get us closer to answering that basic question.

But, as President Barack Obama noted Tuesday, scientists still don't fully know the answer to one age-old question: What exactly is going on inside the human brain?

"The BRAIN initiative will change that," he said, announcing a 10-year research effort that will enlist the country's top neuroscientists to map activity in the human brain.

The Obama administration wants to do that "by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action, and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember."

Photo credit: Salk Institute

Researchers can currently observe small groups of neurons firing in real-time. But they're hoping to get bigger pictures by developing better brain imaging technology through the BRAIN initiative.

Calling this one of the 21st Century's "grand challenges," the President compared the BRAIN initiative to the Human Genome Project and the Apollo moon missions.

He said the project could lead to more effective treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and autism, better prosthetic limbs and computers that read our thoughts.

Aside from these borderline science-fiction applications, the BRAIN initiative stands to create lots of new jobs. Obama said this effort will help counteract cuts triggered by sequestration, which he fears could “hold back a generation of young scientists.”

San Diego's Salk Institute is one of the private sector partners helping to fund BRAIN, which stands for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies.

Salk is chipping in $28 million to kickstart the initiative. Neuroscience is still a relatively young field, but Salk professor Terry Sejnowski says now is the perfect time to launch a project of this scale.

"The technology is much better," he said. "There are resources we didn't have before."

Sejnowski attended the White House announcement along with UC San Diego's Ralph Greenspan, another key BRAIN initiative architect.

KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to this segment


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.