Turn Right at the Cerebellum: President Obama Maps the Brain

This week, the New York Times reported on a new Obama initiative that, in comparison to gun control or the economy, might seem a little frivolous. It’s called the “Brain Activity Map.”

Three Billion Dollars

The name of the project says it all: The goal is to map the connections in the brain in the same way the Human Genome Project mapped out the genes in human DNA. It’s expected to cost about $3 billion dollars over ten years.

If that seems like a pretty heavy price tag for the American people to take on, especially now, just to let scientist go poke around in the brain, you are right. But you are also wrong. Because the pay off could be tremendous.

Let’s use the Human Genome Project as our comparison. That project cost around the same amount as the Brain Map, coming in just under $4 billion when it was completed ahead of schedule in 2003. But the payoff from that project has been an incredible 150 fold, or $800 billion in 10 years. For any investment, that is a handsome return.

But can we replicate that kind of return? Especially in neuroscience, where scientists would be looking at a single organ, instead of the entire human genome? Absolutely. Alzheimer’s Disease, one of the poster children of neurological dysfunction, is expected to cost Americans $1.1 trillion dollars by 2050. That would create a 500 percent increase in Medicare and Medicaid spending. So the question is not really “is this project worth it?,” but more “Why haven’t we done this already?!” To read the full posting go to http://blogs.law.stanford.edu/lawandbiosciences/  Amanda Rubin is a first year law student at Stanford, where she is also pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She is co-president of Stanford’s Interdisciplinary Group in Neuroscience and the Law (SIGNAL) and president of the BioLaw and Health Policy Society.