The mega brain projects announced by the US President and European Commission in 2013 offer new initiatives for developing innovative neurotechnology, but the prospect of effective therapies for brain disease remains uncertain.
In his 2013 State of the Union address President Obama of the United States shook the global neuroscience community by announcing a 10-year, 3 billion dollar project, the ‘Brain Activity Map’, that aims to ‘image every spike from every neuron’. This was followed on 2 April 2013 by an announcement from the White House of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative that promises multi-agency support for the development of new technologies for studying the brain . On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Commission announced on 28 January 2013, that the ‘Human Brain Project’ (HBP) had been chosen as one of two ‘FET Flagship’ projects with 10-year funding of 1 billion Euros and the aim of simulating the human brain with supercomputers to better understand how the brain works and to diagnose brain disorders .
In comparison with the total government and private investment in brain research around the globe, the new funding proposed for these mega projects is relatively small. At the US National Institutes of Health alone, the budget for neuroscience-related intra- and extramural research amounts to 5 billion in the current year, 50 times larger than the first-year budget of 100 million promised for the BRAIN Initiative, although an increasing budget in subsequent years is expected. The private foundation support for neuroscience research has also been substantial. Nevertheless, what excites the global neuroscience community is not the amount of new funding available, but the fact that many governments are putting brain research high on their national agenda.
The recent surge in multi-governmental interest in brain research is by no means a coincidence. The societal burden of brain disorders, including neurological and psychiatric diseases, and substance abuse, now exceeds that of cardiovascular disease and cancer in both advanced and developing countries . The statistics on brain disorders are alarming. Depression affects up to 10% of the population in many societies, and with increasing longevity, Alzheimer's disease affects 13% of the population at age 65, and nearly half of people above age 85. However, this crisis in medical care for brain disorders has not been met by advances in effective treatments, particularly for mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, have the mega brain projects arrived in time to rescue us from this crisis?