Viewpoint: Brain project worth the cost

I’m not a very political person. To be honest, I tend to skim over political news and go straight to the health and science section whenever I’m reading the news, but I was ecstatic when I heard about President Barack Obama’s Brain Activity Map (BAM) project.

President Obama wants to launch a 10-year scientific effort in order to try and map the human brain. According to the New York Times, it’s essentially the Human Genome Project for neuroscience.

According to the same article, the project can begin as early as this month and will include the work of federal and private agencies and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists.

Oh, it’s also going to cost us about $3 billion.

This is a big deal. Almost exciting enough for me to abandon my dreams of medical school in favor of pursuing a career in neuroscience research. I won’t, but this is still really cool.

Despite our nation’s massive debt, I’m really glad this is happening.

There is so much about the brain we don’t know. As neuroscience majors, a lot of what we learn is speculated. For example, there are multiple theories about how our senses work, all of which tell part of the story, but not the whole thing.

Okay, so how would a project like this benefit other people?

Many diseases right now involve neurological damage. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases all involve neurological damage.  Most of these diseases don’t have cures. Their treatments mostly involve controlling the system and slowing the progression of the disease.

These are diseases that affect a large percentage of the population. These diseases render millions of people helpless both directly and indirectly through their friends and family.

Mapping the brain would allow neuroscientists, neurologists and neurosurgeons to understand the brain and visualize it better, which can lead to understanding how diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s work.

If we know how the diseases’ pathway works, we can better work to come up with more efficient treatment and even a cure. This would also allow us to better understand and develop therapies for many mental illnesses.

It could also lead to more advanced research in artificial intelligence.

This plan has the potential to bring together many big-named government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation.

All that aside, it’s still $3 billion being spent that we as a nation probably don’t have, but bringing back the connection between this Brain Activity Map project and the Human Genome Project has financially benefitted the nation, and it has created jobs and lines of research that previously could only be dreamt of.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address that every single dollar put into the Human Genome Project has returned $140 to our economy.

Assuming the Brain Activity Map project progresses along those same lines, this project can not only benefit science, it can benefit us as a nation.

Other countries are starting to get a jump on this research. Before the big questions are all answered, we should at least be right on par with them in pursuing answers to these big questions.

And then all that aside, it would just be cool to understand the brain. I mean the brain controls every element of our personality, what we perceive and how we live our lives.

What can be cooler than that? But maybe that’s my inner neuroscientist speaking.

I’m super excited for this project. I’m excited for the potential research and every day implications for our findings and I’m excited we are starting to explore what some call the final scientific frontier.

Linda Nguyen is a sophomore neuroscience major from Missouri City. She is the Arts and Entertainment editor for the Baylor Lariat.