Academic journal article Human Ecology

Mapping the Brain Is a Team Effort

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Mapping the Brain Is a Team Effort

Article excerpt

Those of us in the field of human development are excited by President Obama's decision in April to commit $100 million in the coming year's federal budget to a new proposal to map the activity of every neuron in the human brain, shedding new light on the brain's role in decision-making, memory, physical health, and other areas. Known as the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative--and commonly referred to as the Brain Activity Map Project--such a focused scientific effort presents a fascinating challenge with broad implications for the future of government-sponsored research in many fields.

The enormous scope of the research challenge posed by the Brain Activity Map Project requires a broad assessment of what we already know about the connections among human behavior, memory, disease, and decision-making. Therefore, collaborative research efforts that include a mix of perspectives from such disciplines as psychology, medicine, and physics are more likely to accelerate attempts to understand the complex relationships between brain function and human disease and behavior.

As one example, the successful prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's dementia is hoped to be an outcome of the federal brain mapping project. While affecting more than 70 percent of known dementia sufferers, the early detection of the disease, successful prevention, and development of drugs aimed to reverse the related physical and cognitive declines for sufferers have proven to be elusive. Frequent news reports attest to the disappointment we all share that drug treatments for Alzheimer's that showed early promise have failed to make measureable advances against the disease.

Asking new and different questions could help refocus investments and research efforts. For example, with support from a multi-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, I joined other researchers in the college's Department of Human Development, the Mayo Clinic, Duke University, and the University of Michigan in an effort to improve the identification and classification of mild cognitive impairments assumed to be precursors to dementia. The research findings published in the January issue of Neuropsychology showed that the e4 allele previously thought to be a genetic link to Alzheimer's dementia is instead connected to a form of mild cognitive impairment. …

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