Right now you’re using millions of cells in your brain to translate these words into conscious thought. Understanding language. Summoning memories. Feeling emotion. Solving problems. These are merely a fraction of the marvels made possible by the human brain.

It’s the most complex and least understood part of our bodies. Despite all of the incredible medical advances made to improve our health over the last century, the brain’s inner workings, relatively speaking, remain mostly a mystery.

And it’s a mystery we need to solve if we’re going to find cures for devastating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, depression and stroke. More than 1,000 known brain and nervous system disorders like these affect more than a billion people worldwide — too many diseases affecting too many people.

Reversing this bleak prognosis requires a revolution in our understanding of the human brain.

As a neurologist, I’ve seen significant progress over the years, especially in my work with people suffering with multiple sclerosis. But much still needs to be done. That’s why I am enthusiastic about the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. This initiative’s emphasis on collaboration has the potential to significantly accelerate discovery in brain science.

The Mayo Clinic is pleased to host a BRAIN Initiative symposium this weekend. Government, industry and academic leaders, along with researchers from across the globe, will convene in Rochester to further their work in neuroscience research and therapies.

This symposium will highlight the BRAIN Initiative’s twin mandates: increasing public/private collaboration in brain research, and accelerating the development and delivery of new therapies for patients. The magnitude of this undertaking demands a collaborative rather than competitive approach to this area of research and discovery.

Gaps in knowledge will be identified and consensus will be sought in defining areas for further research. Through its grant program, the BRAIN Initiative is encouraging greater coordination and collaboration among different institutions and multidisciplinary teams of neurologists, neurosurgeons, scientists and engineers.

Collaborators from the University of Texas at El Paso, Hanyang University in Korea and the Mayo Clinic received the initial BRAIN grant to develop deep brain stimulation technology to detect the release of neurotransmitters in the living brain and to modulate brain activity. Just last week, researchers from the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania, Medtronic and the Mayo Clinic were awarded a grant to collaboratively develop technologies to record brain activity and stimulate multiple brain regions in real time to forecast and hopefully prevent epileptic seizures.

Dr. William Mayo’s century-old admonition that a “union of forces is necessary” to give the sick the benefit of advancing knowledge lives on in our DNA at the Mayo Clinic. And it’s embedded in the work of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative.

Funding is the fuel and collaboration is the engine of future discoveries and new therapies. With unity of purpose and a commitment to continued investment, brain investigators will usher in a new era of knowledge and healing for so many with a wide variety of neurological disorders.

We loudly applaud this scientific collaboration to reveal the secrets of the brain. We encourage policymakers to note the potential of this approach in other areas of research. Most important, we continue to urge legislators to increase funding for the NIH and other federal research agencies to ensure the continuation of their important work and to accelerate discovery for the benefit of patients.

 

John Noseworthy is president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic.