Subcommittee Examines Frontiers and Challenges of Brain Research

Jul 31, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Research and Technology Subcommittee today held a hearing to understand the frontiers and challenges of brain science research, including its potential and limitations for curing brain diseases and rehabilitating those with brain-related injuries and disorders. During testimony, an Air Force Master Sergeant who lost his arm provided subcommittee members a demonstration of his prosthetic limb. Sensors on his skin detect brain signals from his nerves and use those signals to control his robotic arm and hand [photos].

Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.): “As a doctor, I know firsthand there are many complexities surrounding the human body and understanding the human brain is one of the most challenging problems facing the scientific and medical communities. We are hopeful that brain research will have important policy implications. Brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, epilepsy, dementia, stroke, and traumatic brain injury have an enormous economic and personal impact for affected Americans. The creative drive of American science is the individual investigator, and I have faith they will continue to tackle, understand and contribute original approaches to these problems.”

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, much progress was made by breaking the brain down into various components, with individual neurons viewed as the fundamental unit for human brain activity. The number of these neurons is roughly a hundred billion; the number of contacts between neurons is a hundred trillion. The brain is a complex organ that processes and receives electrical, chemical and mechanical inputs and outputs.

Attempts to map the brain into distinct areas, each with its specific function, is a scientific approach that has existed for over a century. Basic science research results from National Science Foundation (NSF) funded research will significantly contribute to experimental tools for brain science researchers.

Witnesses today emphasized the need for an inter-disciplinary and multifaceted approach with the right scientific questions being asked and debated and clear goals and endpoints being articulated.  Brain science has benefited enormously from fields as diverse as applied mathematics, computer science, physics, engineering, molecular biology and chemistry.

The following witnesses testified at the hearing:

Dr. Story Landis, Director, National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Michael McLouglin, Deputy Business Area Executive, Research and Exploratory Development, Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University and U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Joseph Deslauriers Jr.
Dr. Marcus Raichle, Professor of Radiology, Neurology, Neurobiology and Biomedical Engineering, Washington University in St Louis
Dr. Gene Robinson, Professor in Entomology and Neuroscience and Director of the Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For more information about today’s hearing, including witness testimony, please visit the Science, Space, and Technology Committee website.