Scientists around the world are viewing studies on the human brain and space research as this century’s ultimate tasks. The brain, comprised of 100 billion neurons (or nerve cells), commands each part of the human body and controls mental activities. Studies on the brain are the key to preventing and treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. To top it off, state-of-the-art technologies utilizing the functions of the brain (e.g. BCIs (Brain-to-Computer Interface), BBIs (Brain-to-Brain Interface)) and “brain-like” supercomputers) are interdisciplinary convergence sciences.
Studies on the brain are divided largely into three: brain science is focused on studying mental activities such as psycholinguistics and behavior; medical research on the brain is committed to developing medicine to treat functional or structural defects in the brain; and brain engineering is focused on understanding the structure of the brain’s information processing and on engineering applications.
Medical research on the brain has made strides in treating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease and geriatric illnesses. Brain engineering technology, which capitalizes on the brain’s learning ability, is also making rapid headway. In particular, BCIs (Brain-to-Computer Interface), which turn brain signals into electronic ones to operate machines or computers, have basked in attention. The EU has been working on a large-scale project to develop a perfect ‘virtual brain,’ a supercomputer that simulates the human brain consisting of 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses.
If the EU’s brain-like supercomputer project became a success, medicine for brain disorders could be developed without any animal testing and intelligent robots with the same intellectual ability as humans also could be developed.
The US government has been investing in the “BRAIN” Initiative — a bold new research effort to map the human brain and uncover new ways to treat brain disorders.
“The BRAIN Initiative is the next great American project that is as ambitious as the Apollo program. The BRAIN Initiative will not only help treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders but also be applied to a wide range of industries. It will enormously contribute to economic growth and job creation,” said US President Barack Obama.
The S. Korean government has been supporting brain researches since the Brain Research Promotion Act was enacted in 1998. With the aim of making it into the world’s top seven nations in brain research by 2017, S. Korea has been pressing ahead with a three-fold strategy, centered on the reinforcement of R&D (research and development) capability, innovation of R&D systems and industry-academia cooperation and infrastructure building. In 2011, the Korea Brain Research Institute (KBRI) was set up to pool the nation’s brain research capabilities and to lay the foundation for interdisciplinary brain research.
Highly competitive areas of brain research
BCIs (Brain-to-Computer Interface), designed to operate devices by using brain waves, are now at the stage of practical application. The emergence of BBIs (Brain-to-Brain Interface) is expected in the near future. Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) have already succeeded in demonstrating their noninvasive human-to-human brain interface technology, with one researcher able to send a brain signal via the Internet to control the hand motions of a fellow researcher.