The Brain Activity Map, an academic
consortium that aims to measure and model all the connections in living brains,
has garnered mass media attention and comparisons to the Human Genome Project.
However, unlike mapping the relatively well-defined human genome, visualizing
the brain's complete wiring faces severe technical challenges. Also, it is unclear
what the outcome of such a project would be and whether it would get new
treatments to patients faster than more focused research.
Modeling the brain
Although proponents of the project are
likening it to the Human Genome Project, both the scale and scope of the
projects are different.
Even if BAM manages to build the
technology needed to capture whole-brain data, not all neuroscientists are
convinced the project will be able to deliver meaningful insights into the
human brain's high-level functions, let alone reconstruct a nervous system.
Another concern is how to fund the
project during a period of shrinking basic research budgets. The New York
Times estimated that the total cost of BAM will be in the range of $3
billion.5 By comparison, the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke's budget for 2013 is $1.6 billion.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) put out a general statement of support for BAM,
but there are no authors from industry on either of the two papers the BAM team
Osherovich, L. SciBX 6(9); doi:10.1038/scibx.2013.206 Published online March
1. Yuste, R. et al.
The Whole Brain Activity Map: merging nanoscience and
neuroscience for technology and health. (2011)
2. Alivisatos, A.P. et
al. Neuron 74, 970-974 (2012)
3. Alivisatos, A.P. et
al. Science; published online March 7, 2013; doi:10.1126/science.1236939
4. Mitra, P. What's wrong
with the brain activity map proposal. Scientific American (March 5,
5. Markoff, J. Obama
seeking to boost study of human brain. The New York Times (Feb. 17,
AND INSTITUTIONS MENTIONED
Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle, Wash.
Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ:BIIB), Weston, Mass.
Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.
Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, Va.
Eos Neuroscience Inc., San Francisco, Calif.
The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, London, U.K.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Md.
The Kavli Foundation, Oxnard, Calif.
National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, Bethesda, Md.
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.
Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C.
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Washington, D.C.
The Rockefeller University, New York, N.Y.
U.S. Department of Defense, Washington, D.C.