Obama Marks WAAD With $100 Million Brain Initiative

WASHINGTON, DC (April 2, 2013) -- President Obama commemorated World Autism Awareness Day by announcing the launch of a $100 million brain science initiative "designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain." The announcement was made from the White House following an event in the Blue Room where Autism Speaks and other advocates celebrated "Light It Up Blue."

The goal of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative will be to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and potentially prevent brain disorders, such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

Shortly after the White House announcement, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced a new bill would be introduced in Congress to prioritize research funding for autism.

"As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom," the President said. "But we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears....So, as a result, we're still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer's or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke."

The BRAIN initiative, Obama said, "will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be -- will be-- transformative."

The BRAIN initiative will allocate $100 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Science Foundation. NIH will allocate $40 million to its Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, that supports the development of new tools, training opportunities, and other resources.

Additionally, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring April 2 World Autism Awareness Day.

"...While our country has made progress in supporting Americans with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), we are only beginning to understand the factors behind the challenges they face," the proclamation reads. "On World Autism Awareness Day, we recommit to helping individuals on the autism spectrum reach their full potential."

The proclamation stated that the Affordable Care Act, which will go into full operation in 2014, "will make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against men and women with preexisting conditions, including ASDs. And looking ahead, my Administration is investing in medical research that can help unlock tomorrow's breakthroughs in autism detection, intervention, and education."

Autism Speaks President Liz Feld said, "We welcome the President's announcement of this critically important initiative. At the same time, we intend to continue working closely with the administration to assure the Affordable Care Act fully incorporates behavioral health treatment for autism as an essential health benefit."

While calling a federal plan for brain research “critically important,” Feld emphasized an equal need for a national strategy to address the financial, medical and educational needs of families.

“In particular, we need a national strategy to support and integrate the half million young adults with autism who are about to age out of school-based services,” she said. “They need jobs, housing and help with community integration. So many are employable. But they need employers and transition help to get them on the path.”

Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D. said BRAIN “promises to shed light on the neural processes involved in how the brain becomes interconnected over time.” Autism affects how the brain makes connections, both between individual brain cells and across different brain regions. This past year, a study supported by Autism Speaks funding showed differences in the early wiring of the brain in infants who later develop autism.

“Advancing this understanding will help us better understand autism, detect it earlier and develop better interventions,” Dr. Dawson said.