The University of Arizona's Dr. Fernando D. Martinez, head of the BIO5 Institute, was among the country's top scientists invited to join President Barack Obama at the White House on April 2 as he unveiled the BRAIN Initiative – a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders such as Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.
The BRAIN Initiative – short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies – builds on the president's State of the Union call for historic investments in research and development to fuel the innovation, job creation and economic growth that together create a thriving middle class.
In his remarks, Obama stated, "Today I've invited some of the smartest people in the country, some of the most imaginative and effective researchers in the country – some very smart people to talk about the challenge that I issued in my State of the Union address: to grow our economy, to create new jobs, to reignite a rising, thriving middle class by investing in one of our core strengths, and that's American innovation."
The initiative promises to accelerate the invention of new technologies that will help researchers produce real-time pictures of complex neural circuits and visualize the rapid-fire interactions of cells that occur at the speed of thought. Such cutting-edge capabilities, applied to both simple and complex systems, will open new doors to understanding how brain function is linked to human behavior and learning, and the mechanisms of brain disease.
The president highlighted the BRAIN Initiative as one of the administration's "Grand Challenges" – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in science and technology to accomplish. The president called on companies, research universities, foundations and philanthropies to join with him in identifying and pursuing additional Grand Challenges of the 21st century – challenges that can create the jobs and industries of the future while improving lives.
"It was extremely moving to be inside the White House for such an important announcement," said Martinez. "Grand-scale challenges, like understanding the human brain, are very complex. No single scientist or laboratory can solve them alone. Better medicine, health, food and technology are the result of those with different backgrounds and experiences working together and inspiring one another to think in new ways. I was proud to hear today that the White House values interdisciplinary research enterprises that create the physical and intellectual space to do this. The BIO5 Institute at the UA has long been a model of scientific collaboration and the translation of meaningful discoveries into bold solutions that will not only impact our economy, but also will improve and save lives."
Martinez is a world-class, practicing physician-scientist with his own research laboratory, in addition to leading three interdisciplinary research centers at the UA. "The beauty of facilities like the BIO5 Institute and the Arizona Respiratory Center is that you are able to walk through the halls and have discussions with colleagues from a variety of fields to come up with ideas and protocols to address both scientific and clinical questions. Only a handful of universities in the United States have this degree of the collaborative environment and facilities needed to succeed in developing better therapies and a more personalized approach to treating disease."
The BIO5 Institute at the UA mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity's most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics, devices and promising new therapies.