Bioethics Blogs

BRAIN: Launching America’s Next Moonshot

A stylized rocket headed toward a moon made of a human brain

Moonshot to the BRAIN

Some have called it America’s next moonshot. Indeed, like the historic effort that culminated with the first moon landing in 1969, the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is a bold, ambitious endeavor that will require the energy of thousands of our nation’s most creative minds working together over the long haul.

Our goal? To produce the first dynamic view of the human brain in action, revealing how its roughly 86 billion neurons and its trillions of connections interact in real time. This new view will revolutionize our understanding of how we think, feel, learn, remember, and move, transforming efforts to help the more than 1 billion people worldwide who suffer from autism, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other devastating brain disorders.

When on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced plans to go to the moon by the end of the decade, most Americans (not to mention space scientists!) were stunned because much of the technology needed to achieve a moonshot didn’t yet exist. Likewise, medical research today faces a wide gap between our current technologies for studying the brain and what will be needed to realize BRAIN’s ambitious goals. Right now, we’re pretty good at studying individual brain cells and we also are able to image the whole brain when someone is holding very still inside a neuroimaging machine (such as a PET or MRI scanner). What’s missing are tools to see what’s really going on within the brain’s neural circuitry—the crucial middle level at which most of human cognition and behavior is generated, as well as ways to look at the brain when people are moving around and interacting in the real world.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.