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NCCIH Research Blog

BRAIN Initiative Researchers Meet to Share Progress

December 9, 2016

David Shurtleff, Ph.D.

David Shurtleff, Ph.D.

Deputy Director

Acting Scientific Director

Division of Intramural Research

Acting Chief

Clinical Investigations Branch

Acting Chief

Pain and Integrative Neuroscience Branch

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

View biographical sketch

NIH will host a meeting on December 12-14, 2016 of nearly a thousand people who are part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, a large-scale public and private effort to develop new tools and technologies to understand the healthy and diseased brain. Researchers will discuss scientific developments–many which have occurred since the BRAIN Initiative was launched in 2013–promising new directions for research as well as identifying areas for future collaborations.

I’ve blogged about my excitement about this grand challenge designed to revolutionize our understanding of how the brain works. Advances through the BRAIN initiative will lead to new insights into how the brain is organized from the molecular cellular level through the integration of brain circuits that results in complex behavior, emotions, and cognitive ability that is derived from the human brain. To meet this challenge–to fully develop a comprehensive understanding of the brain – new technologies are needed. So far, the BRAIN Initiative has delivered some spectacular results to advance fundamental neuroscience research, from tools to identify the cells of the brain that are involved in specific neural circuits to innovative ways to monitor and manipulate brain activity. The initiative is also pushing new boundaries by creating novel noninvasive methods for scanning brain activity, including trying to distinguish between the activity of neurons versus those of the equally common glial cells. With the continued development of brain-specific technologies will come new insights into how to better diagnose, prevent, treat, and ultimately cure brain disorders.

NCCIH is part of this exciting program, contributing to the BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements, and we will continue to support this effort through the duration of the BRAIN 2025 program and beyond. Our Center’s interests in brain research are varied, but our major focus is on the need to have an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms by which complementary and integrative health approaches may impact brain systems. This fundamental knowledge is critical for developing strategies to optimize the potential beneficial effects of these approaches. Complementary and integrative health approaches have been commonly used to treat or manage disorders or symptoms relevant to the nervous system. These range from pain, sleep disturbance, stress, anxiety, and behavioral disorders to more serious neurological or mental health conditions. Commonly used complementary health approaches include mind and body interventions such as meditation, spinal manipulation, yoga, massage, tai chi, and acupuncture. A variety of natural products, including herbs, dietary supplements, and prebiotic or probiotic products are also commonly used. Yet- we know little about how they work and how they may benefit the brain to reduce the symptoms associated with these disorders. Technologies developed and insight gained through the BRAIN Initiative will provide not only a fundamental understanding of these approaches and their impact on brain systems, but also how they might be used and optimized to manage symptoms and improve health and wellbeing for millions of individuals.

It’s an exciting time to be part of this the initiative–to witness and help facilitate new advances in neuroscience that will drive a deeper understanding of the most complex organ in the human body–the brain.

We welcome you to attend in person or watch the meeting online. On Tuesday, December 13, plenary sessions will highlight the clinical and ethical implications of the BRAIN Initiative and showcase technologies in development. There will also be smaller slide and poster presentations that participants can attend. The meeting will be live-streaming virtually all the sessions in the plenary space and you can watch via the NIH VideoCast website on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

More information on the BRAIN Initiative:


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