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North Texas Doctors On Board With President’s $100 Million Brain Mapping Plan

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Scientists have mapped the human genome. Now, they may have to do something even more complicated – map the human brain. President Obama wants to allocate 100 million dollars to launch the project.

Researchers already know areas of the brain responsible for things like speech and emotion. President Obama’s brain mapping initiative is expected to go deeper, to the very cells that communicate with each other.

Dr. Reid Lyon, a neurophysiologist and neuropsychologist at the Center for Brain Health UT Dallas, studies the brain with a focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He said, “The synaptic environment, the talking place where neurochemistry carries messages from one cell to the next is where the action is. And, we have to better understand those kinds of actions,” he said.

“Hopefully this initiative will help us understand the significant details that will actually allow us to do something if the system goes wrong,” he said.

New knowledge of the brain could yield new treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.

It could, one day, help people like Jacob Schick. He suffers from a Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Schick, a third generation Marine, was injured when his Humvee rolled over a land mine in Iraq.

“I never lost consciousness. I remember everything,” he said.

His left arm was mangled. His right leg was amputated. He endured 46 operations in a year and a half.

“As soon as my front tire hit, it blew up right underneath me and ejected me out of the hummer. Just the concussion of the explosion will knock you silly. But, I got blown out and landed on my head,” he said.

There were recurring nightmares.

“My family would tell me, at night, I’d be trying to drive the hummer in my sleep,” he said.

Daniel Krawczyk is an Associate Professor of Behavior and Brain Science at UT Dallas and a Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern.

Krawczyk said the brain mapping initiative has created a lot of buzz.

“My initial thought was, ‘That’s very good news at a time when we don’t hear a lot of good news for research funding. It’s all about budget cuts and so on,” he said.

“The second reaction is, ‘What’s the real goal and what are the specifics with what we’re trying to do with that particular mission,'” he said.

But he also said the findings could be monumental.

“If we can understand these disorders in a more efficient way and more effective way, the treatments will be transformative for society,” Krawczyk said.

But, mapping the complexities of the brain will take time.

Dr. Lyon said, “We’re looking at trillions of cells, neurons. We’re looking at trillions of connections across those different little units. It’s a task. But, it can be done.”

Research will start in 2014. But scientists will have to define their goals first, which could take more than a year.

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