The Age of the Brain
Since a couple of years many countries hosted the Brain Awareness Week with an impressive number of events to place our brains in the spotlight. Now we are in the middle of the "Month of the Brain". And guess what, next year we will have the Year of the Brain. I know, it's marketing but sometimes symbols do make a difference. Personally I am really looking foward to it and hope to be part of it. Don't forget the brain still holds many fascinating tricks up its sleeve and there are many secrets to be revealed.
Over the last years, also as a delayed result of the economic downturn, we have seen many major pharmaceutical companies all over the world closing down their neuroscience research centers. One of the main reasons: too risky and thus too costly. Bringing it down to the point, we still do lack a lot of appropriate model systems for neurological diseases and our current concepts mostly neglect a huge and often important piece of the cake. Those neurological diseases are the cause of both tremendous personal and economical losses throughout the world. With the lack of often basic understanding of how the brain works or does not work as planned, it would appear quite logical that we needed to increase our fundamental brain research efforts and bring it onto another level. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that recently two major funding victories have been scored in favour of brain research which resulted in some surprised faces within the scientific community.
In the United States Barack Obama considered it a personal matter to announce a starting fund of 100 Mio. $ for the Human Brain Mapping project - an important project, with the aim to finally and for the first time get a clear and full picture of the neuronal connections and their implications inside our brains. Second, on the other side of the Atlantic, the team around Henry Makram has scored a major victory for brain research as their project has been awarded with 1 Billion € to gain a better insight into the human brain and its diseases. Although scientists in the field have strongly critizised the project outline, I strongly believe it is major and well needed boost for brain research. Fears that other maybe as important brain-related projects might loose on important funding in the near future are understandable but in my opinion unsupported. Looking at the latest FP7 program by the EU from 2007-2013 around 1250 small projects have been funded with a whopping 2 billion €. Fears that this number will not be achieved in the next program are ungrounded. On the contrary, the need to understand fundamental brain processes, improve diagnostics and provide adequate healthcare on this sector is greater than ever before.
Not only has the funding for brain research rocketed in recent years, no, mainly as a result of it we have achieved tremendous scientific advances as well. neuroscience centers are continuously set-up throughout the world, publications in the field of neuroscience are exploding, major success stories have been written across the field - to name a few- brain imagening, optogenetics and neuroprothetics to name a few. Some of them have been discussed in this blog as well. Moreover, neuroscience has its impact on other areas as well. neuromarketing and especially neuroeconomics are growing with rapid speed. Some might say with much less benefit to human mankind, but they are great examples of how advances in neuroscience are and will make its way into our daily life beyond health related issues.
For now the European Union has only chosen May, as the Month of the Brain, but it has become apparent that the Age of Brain Research has not only dawned, no I believe it is already fully on it's way and it was about time!