Neuroscientists React to Obama's Push for Brain Research

The human brain is getting a lot of attention this week, as details emerge about the brain mapping effort President Barack Obama alluded to during his State of the Union address.

The New York Times reported that such an undertaking could cost billions of dollars over the course of a decade. Columbia University Neuroscientist Rafael Yuste is working on the project. He said there’s still much we need to learn about the brain and how it works.

“If you think about it, it’s a historic moment, whenever mankind figures out how the brain works, because we are our minds,” he said, during an appearance this week on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. “Essentially everything that we are is our brain so we will understand ourselves for the first time.” (Listen to the full interview by clicking here.)

Richard Tsien, director of the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center agrees.

“We understand quite a lot about how the connections between neurons work, but we are just beginning to scratch the surface on how these many, many neurons and many connections add up to creating a thought or retrieving a memory or forming an action plan,” he said.

Tsien said studying the brain will lead to a better understanding of disease, as well as a better understanding of ourselves.

“I’d like to think that in the institute here at NYU, and in other places throughout the country, there’s going to be a partnership between bending the cost curve for healthcare by discovering ways of dealing with diseases, and just understanding the ultimate mystery of how the human brain works in the first place.”