The Growing Philanthropic Power Behind the Obama Brain Push

Hold on to your seats, because the White House BRAIN Initiative is ramping up in a big way. Founded in April, 2013, with $100 million coming from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), there’s no denying it’s got a lot of muscle behind it.

Now President Obama is announcing another $300 million in funding from foundations and universities to push the initiative forward in a major way.

Related: Why’s the Pentagon Backing Brain Research Straight Out of Science Fiction?

Everyone is getting in on the action. This latest push features, just for starters, the universities of Utah, Pittsburgh, Texas, and UC Berkeley. Carnegie Mellon and Boston are in there, too. Fifty companies in Oregon and Washington are getting into the game, along with the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the University of Washington, and Oregon Health & Science University.

The Simons Foundation is bringing its Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain initiative into alignment with the BRAIN Initiative, and pitching in an additional $2 million. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is making a similar bid of $2 million, to increase support to its Young Investigator grantmaking program. Already it reads like a damn who’s who of American brain science philanthropy, and that’s only a partial list.  

This money will help grow the BRAIN Initiative’s mission, partly by bringing two new federal agencies into the fold: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). Also along for the ride: General Electric and Google.

The BRAIN Initiative has found the sweet spot where philanthropy, government and industry converge. All parties agree that increased insight into the brain’s inner workings will benefit society and the bottom line, not to mention our military defenses. A first round of grants $46 million wide went out to more than a hundred investigators earlier this year, and who knows what next year may bring? "The human brain is the most complicated biological structure in the known universe. We've only just scratched the surface in understanding how it works — or, unfortunately, doesn't quite work when disorders and disease occur," said NIH director Francis S. Collins. "This is just the beginning of an ambitious journey and we’re excited about the possibilities."