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Rep. Chaka Fattah Headshot

Thinking Ahead: The Future of Neuroscience

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Earlier this summer I convened more than 40 scientists, researchers, and advocates at Philadelphia's University City Science Center to discuss the latest innovations in neuroscience research with Dr. Philip Rubin, Principal Assistant Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

The Science Center -- the oldest and largest urban research park in the United States -- provided an optimal background for participants to hear firsthand about the latest work coming out of both OSTP and the Fattah Neuroscience Initiative. During the briefing, Dr. Rubin addressed the rising focus on federal investment in neuroscience, and the critical emergence of public-private partnerships in advancing neuroscience exploration.

Dr. Rubin and I share an ardent belief that the potential within the subject is limitless--if stakeholders continue their push to grow and expand the field, the future of neuroscience will be transformative for millions of people, touching parents and children, businesses, scientists, educators, and innumerable other research disciplines.

While the majority of neuroscience funding comes from publicly funded agencies, the opportunities can truly be multiplied when the private and public sectors work together; innovation will be dependent on future collaborations between fellow lawmakers, funders, and those in the science community working at research institutions and business incubators like Philadelphia's Science Center.

My friend, Dr. Stephen Tang, President and CEO of the University City Science Center noted our region's role as a leader in healthcare and in life sciences research and development, "This combination creates an ideal environment in Philadelphia for world-class innovation in neuroscience research. We are proud that companies at the Science Center are developing products that will help diagnose conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury."

Following the briefing, Penn Medicine staff led Dr. Rubin on a short tour of current brain-related projects at the school, where he was briefed in research on everything from translational drug discovery efforts to treat neonatal seizures, to one lab's efforts to restore motor function for patients with disability from stroke, trauma, and neurodegenerative conditions. The breadth and scope of these and the countless other cutting-edge projects underway at our country's finest research institutions confirm that neuroscience is an increasingly important national priority--and one that I will continue to elevate through my work in Congress and beyond.

Child development, veteran's mental health, sports injuries -- all are growing subjects of neuroscience research that with the right investment and support will be the beneficiary of pioneering technologies and medical advancements. This is why I founded the Fattah Neuroscience Initiative (FNI), an innovative, non-incremental policy effort seeking to achieve groundbreaking progress in understanding the human brain.

In 2011, FNI formed the Interagency Working Group on Neuroscience (IWGN), housed at the White House, bringing together representatives across the Federal government to make recommendations about the future of neuroscience research.

President Obama has been a vocal champion and advocate of IWGN and our country's commitment to neuroscience progress. In April, the President announced an ambitious plan that will build on, and advance, scientific work in the nanoscience and neuroscience communities. This project -- the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, or B.R.A.I.N. Initiative -- will provide funding to better understand the dynamic functions of the brain, and develop new tools, training and opportunities for this research.

Funding neuroscience research now will reap tangible benefits for the lives of citizens across America, as well as the potential to increase our country's global competitiveness.

In the coming weeks, I will highlight the incredible opportunities for international partnership around neuroscience investment, hosting a briefing in Philadelphia with Horizon 2020 to explore a partnership with the European Commission, and then traveling to Israel to address the country's first-ever international brain technology conference, BrainTech Israel 2013.

The World Health Organization estimates that neurological disorders affect up to one billion people around the world. Here at home, it's estimated that neurological illness affects more than 50 million Americans annually. These numbers remind us that advancing America's understanding of neuroscience and the human brain is truly a grand challenge of the 21st Century.