I applaud Obama for giving a shout out to research and development interests in his State of the Union address yesterday. The semantics surrounding science in the Obama administration has highlighted technology and engineering, with little room for discussion on other biomedical sciences. But last night Obama channeled Patrick Kennedy’s “New Frontier” proposal or “One Mind.” In 2011 Kennedy held a conference with top neuroscience researchers in Boston to celebrate John F. Kennedy’s famous ‘moon shot’ speech. For Patrick Kennedy, the new frontier of this century is understanding the human brain; we are mapping rna, dna, neurons, and intricate layers of biology to understand how the brain functions. Kennedy hopes to advance cures for ”every kind of brain disease.” He has personally experienced the complexity of mental health disorders like addiction and his father, Senator Ted Kennedy, died from a brain tumor. The One Mind for Research campaign aims to raise $5 billion for research.
The campaign was endorsed by Vice-President Joe Biden in 2011 and as John P. Holdren (President Obama’s science and technology advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) states in the 2013 Science and Technology Budget Press Release, “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to nourish the seeds of exploration and discovery that will, in the years ahead, grow into breakthroughs yielding new products, services, and jobs, new therapies and cures, and a better quality of life for all Americans.” Obama’s 2013 Federal R&D budget proposal is $140.8 billion, an increase of 1.4% from 2012 (note: the total budget is offset by cuts in the defense budget).
The momentum for brain research is beginning, how it will impact future job creation and influence research questions is still unknown. And there are more questions to ask: Will funding support research that breeds more demand for pharmaceutical applications, or perhaps, offer other insight into investigating alternative treatments for mental and neurological disorders? What about topics in bioethics? These big questions might not have answers, but at least it is up for discussion in congress.