Friday, February 22, 2013

Map the brain

More than 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made the bold pledge that within a decade, we would go to the moon. At the time, most American rockets had either blown up on the launch pad or meekly waivered off course. Kennedy’s pledge seemed foolhardy. 

When Kennedy said America would go to the moon, scientists and engineers did not focus on what was impossible. They instead began figuring our how to build what no one except science fiction novelists had even imagined.

Today, our scientists again are reaching for the stars as they begin the incredible task of mapping the human brain to unlock the secrets of devastating neurological diseases, a job certainly of the magnitude of going to the moon.

The Obama administration has called for national commitments to make that map a reality within a decade.

To be fair, Kennedy had an ally in his reach for the stars: He had the Russians. Much of the reason that Americans were willing to take on that massive program was the real fear that the Russians were going to get to the moon first. 

America no longer has a convenient boogeyman like the Russians, but brain mapping offers more than a glimmer of hope to those who have loved ones trapped by brain disorders and deteriorations about which medical science can do very little. It also offers hope to a nation whose population is aging yet needs to pare down the costs of health care.

This time the race is with terrifying enemies such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and traumatic brain injury. In a time of small government and stingy budgets, pursuing such a massive project may seem foolhardy, but it’s a challenge worth taking on. 



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