NEUROSCIENCE/OPTOGENETICS: Proposed BRAIN initiative could benefit biophotonics

The U.S.'s proposed Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative aims to help researchers and scientists find new ways to treat, cure, and possibly even prevent brain disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer's, epilepsy, and autism. As such, it could help to advance biophotonics technologies such as optogenetics and optical brain imaging.

The program is a part of the President's Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposal. If approved by Congress, it would include $100 million in investments, with approximately $50 million allocated to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), $40 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and $20 million to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Optical Society (OSA) CEO Elizabeth Rogan testified before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies to call for such federal investments in research and development (R&D) funding. She noted that NSF funding helped researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, MA) to develop a 3D "light switch" that "enables unprecedented precision to activate single neurons at a precise location with a beam of light. The technology may one day help treat Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and enable the quest to map the circuitry of the brain." She added that "Biomedical optics research like this has the potential to change the lives of many, and the U.S. government is poised to advance these technologies through federally funded programs like the BRAIN initiative."

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