A Google Map of Our Brains: The Next Chapter in Neuroscience

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Scientists in New York City are at the center of President Obama's brain research initiative, a $100 million effort to better understand the inner workings of the human noggin. 

"For a lot of the way that different brain regions work together to generate complex functions, we're really stumbling around in the dark," said Dr. Cori Bargmann, a Rockefeller University neuroscientist and co-chair of the project. "The point of the brain initiative is to turn on some lights."

This week on New Tech City, host Manoush Zomorodi sits down with Bargmann for an in-depth discussion of the program's objectives.

"The living brain and the way that activity flows through the brain when you have a perception, or a memory, or an emotion or a thought are the things that really concern us," she said.

President Obama announced the BRAIN initiative in April. Yes, like much of Washington-speak, it's an acronym: Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. Just don't call it brain mapping. 

"A map is something static, and the whole point of the brain is that it's always moving," Bargmann said. "If you want to think of it as a map at all, you should think of it more as a Google Map that shows where the traffic is moving."

If only human heads and brains were translucent like zebrafish heads and brains, you might even be able to see what Bargmann describes as "neurons...twinkling like stars in the sky." 

Also in this week's show, WNYC business and economics editor Charlie Herman visits a new biotechnology lab in Harlem called the Harlem Biospace where biotech entrepreneurs can make discoveries and turn them into businesses.

New York has nine major medical centers and is a major center for biomedical science, according to the lab's founder Sam Sia, but there are still barriers for entrepreneurs working in biosciences in the city. 

"The issues so far with translating some of the research into inventions and products is that there hasn't been a place to get started for people in terms of a lab for the one- or two-person startup," he said.

This is an extended podcast of New Tech City. You can listen to the broadcast version every Wednesday morning at 5:50 and 7:50 a.m. on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820 and New Jersey Public Radio or subscribe to the program on iTunes.