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Obama pledges $100M to map brain

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By The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday outlined a government-sponsored initiative to map the human brain, casting the proposal as a way to discover cures for neurological disease and strengthen the economy.

“Ideas are what power our economy,” Obama said as he announced the proposal from the East Room of the White House. “When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else.”

The project would use about $100 million in federal money over the next fiscal year to begin a long-term effort to better understand the brain. Those funds will be included in Obama's budget proposal, scheduled for release next week, and would be combined with annual private-sector investments of roughly an equal amount.

Obama has spoken frequently during his presidency, including in his most recent State of the Union address, about using federal money in partnership with academia and business to foster projects with broader economic and social benefits. And the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative represents one of Obama's most ambitious efforts to do so.

But the federal funding he has proposed probably would represent only seed money for a project that could take more than a decade to complete, as was the case with the program to map the human genome, another collaboration between the federal government and the private sector.

Obama cited the computer chip and the Internet as projects that began with government help, and he named Alzheimer's disease, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by American troops among the afflictions that could be better understood, if not cured, through this initiative.

“As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom,” Obama said. “But we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”

Obama's proposal, and the budget it will be a part of, comes as the federal government struggles with the effects of the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that started taking effect last month. On Tuesday, he again called for those cuts to be reversed, warning that they threaten to stifle innovation for a generation of young scientists.

The administration is expecting resistance to the initiative from a divided Congress. House Republicans already have proposed a spending plan that contains deep cuts and no additional taxes to bring the budget into balance over the next decade — and have asked Obama to do the same.

“This is exciting, important research, and it would be appropriate for the White House to reprioritize existing research funding into these areas,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

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