Minn. families welcome Obama's brain-mapping project - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Minn. families welcome Obama's brain-mapping project

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Finding a cure for autism and other brain disorders is President Barack Obama's new brainchild, and for Minnesota families living with the conditions that will be studied are excited about the project.

Obama wants to devote $100 million to research the brain activity in unprecedented detail with the intent of finding better ways to treat conditions like Alzheimer's, autism, stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

The project seeks to track brain activity down to individual cells and the details of how they connect and interact. Understanding those intricacies could help find methods of treating neurological and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, Parkinson's, depression and epilepsy.

About 60,000 Minnesotans have some form of epilepsy, and for more than a quarter of those patients there is no known cause or treatment -- but this project could change all that by unlocking the mysteries of the mind.

"I've been diagnosed for four, four-and-a-half years," said Brett Boyum.

Not only does Boyum suffer from grand mal seizures, but his teenage son also has epilepsy. While medication helps control his condition, Boyum told FOX 9 News he lives in fear that the seizures will return.

"You do live with it in the back of your mind regularly. There's a fear of the unknown," he said. "In many cases, there is no cause."

Obama is hoping that the so-called BRAIN initiative could change all that while researchers explore how the brain learns, thinks and remembers by using new technology that records the electrical activity of individual cells and complex neural circuits.

"As humans we can identify galaxies light-years away," Obama said. "We can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven't unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears."

Dr. Patricia Penovich, of the Minnesota Epilepsy Group, told FOX 9 News that doctors already use some brain mapping to find out where seizures occur, but she said a more in-depth study of how the brain works could eventually lead to a cure.

"It's incredibly exciting," she said. "We still have 25 percent of people with epilepsy and the medicines we have already don't treat them. So, there's a lot more research in the sense that we can find mechanisms and attack that mechanism and make the person's seizures controlled."

Boyum hopes that by the time his son, Travis, is his age, he won't have to worry about seizures anymore.

"Anything that can help fund research is a welcome advance for those of us suffering from epilepsy," he said.

Although the $100 million price tag may seem large, it's a relatively small investment for the federal government -- less than a fifth of what NASA spends every year just to study the sun. Even so, it's too early to determine how Congress will react. Scientists, even those with no connection to the project, have praised the idea.

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