Virginia Health Care Centers

brain science

Understanding how the brain works – that is, how its molecules, cells and circuits enable behaviour, perception and thought – is the overarching goal of neuroscience. Although research has been advancing exponentially, the challenge of figuring out how all that complexity enables our unique cognitive and behavioural capabilities is a daunting one.

A key focus of the BRAIN Initiative is on accelerating the development of technologies for mapping neural circuits, measuring the fluctuating patterns of electrical and chemical activity that flow within these circuits and understanding how their interplay enables human cognition and behavior. This will require the application of new combination of experimental methods that are currently in short supply.

These methods include:

Molecular and anatomical descriptions of neuronal populations in model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, zebrafish, mouse and non-human primate; genetic access to these cells; tools for electrophysiological recording and analysis; and methods for monitoring the development and death of neuronal cells.

Combinations of these methods will allow the study of individual neuronal populations to be mapped in their entirety and in real time during complex behaviour and/or disease. This will give us a deeper understanding of how and why specific neuronal populations die, grow out of control or otherwise change their course during a range of conditions and diseases.

It will also allow neuronal populations to be tested in a variety of circuit manipulation experiments and their causal role in generating behaviour to be determined. Hand-in-hand with these new combinations of experimental methods will come integrated work from theory, modelling and statistics that provide rigour to observations, new methods for visualization and understanding of the data and, most importantly, new conceptual frameworks for interpretation of these data.

This will be done through an iterative, tactical approach that includes identifying challenges and opportunities to develop new techniques, processes and tools for each of these types of investigations. The first step is to prioritize the most relevant areas of research and identify key brain regions.

The BRAIN Initiative will also be dedicated to building a network of researchers who share a common interest in human brain science and working together to address the fundamental questions that underpin this field. This is a critical aspect of the BRAIN Initiative because it provides the essential foundation for understanding the brain and its development, and thereby allowing scientists to design and test novel therapies for neurological diseases and disabilities.

In addition, the BRAIN Initiative will be committed to training the next generation of neuroscientists who are rigorous researchers, compassionate clinicians, creative engineers and adept administrators of complex scientific teams. This will ensure that we are equipped to make the most of emerging and developing research technologies, and to carry out high quality and ethically sound human research.

The BRAIN Initiative will be seeking partnerships with other national and international institutions to pursue these goals. It will be actively promoting collaboration and hosting external experts to stimulate new ideas and approaches.