March 14–20, 2016, is Brain Awareness Week, and this year we are not only raising awareness about how crucial brain research is, we’re also celebrating something big: The BRAIN Initiative® boosted funding for brain research from $200 million last year to $300 million this year. Yes, that is a $100-million bump in funding, and it’s part of a bold plan to accelerate research into understanding the human brain.
President Obama launched the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN Initiative in April 2013 to solve the mysteries of the brain once and for all. But don’t expect those mysteries to be solved overnight.
The BRAIN Initiative is a 12-year endeavor, with the goal of advancing our understanding of the human brain and how it works by 2025. To thoroughly study the brain, scientists need innovative technology, which the BRAIN Initiative is funding efforts to develop. For example, imaging techniques, such as refined ultrasonography, are being developed to view the brain like never before.
By using new technology, scientists are viewing the brain in action and producing pictures of how brain cells and complex neural circuits—or chains of nerve cells that coordinate functions—interact. Doing so could reveal how the brain uses, processes, stores and recalls information and, in turn, perhaps show how these brain functions are tied to behavior.
Ultimately, this advanced understanding of how the brain works will lead to better treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, autism, other psychiatric disorders and traumatic brain injury.
Brain research is an integral part of our mission here at the Department of Neurosurgery at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Our Department runs eight research laboratories, all under the leadership of Department Chair Dr. Robert A. Solomon.
Each laboratory studies several topics, such as inflammation that occurs after a stroke, the role the body’s immune system plays in childhood brain tumors and spinal cord bypass surgery, a technique being developed to possibly treat spinal cord injury.
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