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President Barack Obama announced Tuesday morning he will seek $100 million for brain research in the budget he presents next week, aside from his efforts to end the sequester’s hit on science.
The research proposal, which he previewed in the State of the Union address, includes $40 million for research at the National Institutes of Health, $50 million at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and $20 million for the National Science Foundation.
“As humans we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than the atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears,” Obama said at the White House.
Obama will have to get that request through Congress, however — and those agencies are already seeing research cuts under the sequester, something to which Obama appeared to allude.
“Of course, none of this will be easy. If it was, we’d already know everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably my life would be simpler here,” he said to laughter. “It would — could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington. ... We could prescribe something.”
Obama then explicitly complained about sequestration’s impact on science.
“You know, a few weeks ago, the directors of some of our national laboratories said that the sequester — these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that have gone into place — are so severe, so poorly designed, that they’ll hold back a generation of young scientists,” the president said. “When our leading thinkers wonder if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get involved in science in the first place because they’re not sure whether the research funding and the grants will be there to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that’s something we should worry about.”
NIH Director Frances Collins, meanwhile, argued that the nation cannot afford not to invest in research.
“Some may ask how we can afford to talk about investing in bold new research during difficult budgetary times. But the reality is we cannot afford not to,” Collins said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement that while he supports brain research, it should be paid for by cutting other science accounts.
“Mapping the human brain is exactly the type of research we should be funding, by reprioritizing the $250 million we currently spend on political and social science research into expanded medical research, including the expedited mapping of the human brain. It’s great science,” Cantor said in a statement.
The initiative will launch with the BRAIN acronym (for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). The aim is to ultimately develop treatments and cures for brain disorders and injuries, including Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.
The president also announced he ordered a commission to ensure that the research is done ethically and said the federal research would partner with efforts done by private institutions as well.