International Brain Initiative

France Cordova presents at the Coordinating Global Brain Projects meeting at The Rockefeller University, September 19, 2017France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation. (Credit: Mario Morgado)

“Our understanding of the brain is quite limited due to its complexity. However, because of revolutionary technologies, developed in recent years, neuroscientists across the globe think they are on the verge of making significant advances in fundamental knowledge about the brain and about behavior. Now is the time to come together and capitalize on this moment. I believe that all of these brilliant minds across the globe can coordinate their work, culminating in ultimate success.”

—NSF Director, France Córdova, speaking at the “Coordinating Global Brain Projects” meeting, September 19, 2016.

What is an International Brain Initiative?

World map of national brain research projectsWorld map depicting brain initiatives and related programs around the world. (Credit: Yuste, Rafael et al. Cell, Volume 168, Issue 6, 956 - 959)

An International Brain Initiative is a global neuroscience alliance connecting the large-scale, multi-institutional brain research projects currently underway around the world. Its goal is to promote collaboration and cooperation among the emerging brain projects and to ensure that the outcomes of these projects ultimately benefit everyone. 

The International Brain Initiative began in 2016, when dozens of public and private partners started coming together to discuss the establishment of an alliance, similar to big science projects in physics, astronomy and genetics that are international in scope. These meetings were motivated in part by a congressional mandate to the National Science Foundation (NSF) requiring it to lead the coordination among global brain projects. Coordination will help ensure that new investments in brain research will benefit scientists everywhere, from graduate students in Kenya to young investigators in Vietnam, and maximize return on investment by amplifying the strengths of individual projects and eliminating redundancies between them. 

What is the significance of an International Brain Initiative?

Countries around the world are investing in basic research and new technologies that could transform our knowledge of the brain. Large-scale projects are planned or progressing in North America, Europe, Asia and elsewhere, driving the field of neuroscience forward at an unprecedented pace. Understanding how the brain functions, and how it breaks down in disease, has the potential to improve the lives of a vast number of people worldwide. That is why representatives from these diverse brain research efforts, including scientists, policymakers and funders, are coming together to create an International Brain Initiative. 

Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of HealthFrancis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, at Coordinating Global Brain Projects. (Credit: Mario Morgado)

The first planning meeting, the Global Brain Workshop, was hosted by Johns Hopkins University in April 2016. This was followed by the Coordinating Global Brain Projects meeting, jointly hosted by Columbia University and The Rockefeller University in September 2016.

A separate but related event was held during the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) high level week, with the goal of elevating brain science as a foreign policy priority.

In an opinion article about the event, published in Newsweek, Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Science and Technology Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State, and Robert Conn, President of The Kavli Foundation, wrote:

“[I]f we consider the significant social and economic burdens derived from brain diseases, it is clear that international collaboration on brain science should also be a foreign policy priority that our leaders invest in and support. Better understanding the human brain could also dramatically improve the security of our people, as it may give governments a chance to address the root causes of problems such as violence or population migration before they escalate.”

Building on these meetings, leaders in brain science research and policy continue to discuss ways in which the international community can work together to advance neuroscience research. Ideas include developing experimental standards and ethical guidelines for brain research, funding mechanisms to support international collaborations and training, platforms that facilitate the sharing of large experimental data sets and powerful brain research technologies, or “neurotechnologies.” These platforms could include virtual research centers, web portals for data storage and analysis, and facilities where scientists can access specialized research tools. 

What is The Kavli Foundation's Role?

As part of our ongoing support of basic neuroscience research and the BRAIN Initiative, The Kavli Foundation is sponsoring a series of meetings aimed at coordinating among the various international brain projects. 


Global Brain Workshop 2016

April 2016: Global Brain Workshop 2016
More than 60 scientists from around the world spent two days together discussing the top challenges the global neuroscience community could solve over the next decade. Four ideas emerged as grand challenges, including a cloud-computing platform—an "International Brain Observatory" to facilitate the storage, sharing and analysis of large neuroscience datasets. The grand challenges are summarized in the articles below.

Meeting synopsis: Grand Challenges for Global Brain Sciences” at
In an issue of the journal Neuron dedicated to Global Neuroscience, attendees also published a proposal to accelerate brain research by leveraging cloud-computing technologies: “To the Cloud! A Grassroots Proposal to Accelerate Brain Science Discovery

May 2016: State of the Brain
This Keystone Symposia brought together investigators from around the world to share their discoveries and to plan future projects, including how to coordinate among international brain research programs.

September 2016: Coordinating Global Brain Initiatives
Several hundred scientists, funders and policymakers discussed how to promote collaboration and cooperation among the emerging large-scale international brain projects. 

Meeting synopsis: A commentary published in the journal Cell: “Toward a Global BRAIN Initiative,” was written by co-organizers Cori Bargmann (Rockefeller University, Kavli Neural Systems Institute) and Rafael Yuste (Columbia University, Kavli Institute for Brain Science). 

Watch the full meeting:
Coordinating Global Brain Projects - Video 1 Coordinating Global Brain Projects - Video 2

United Nations General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on an International Brain Initiative
Key stakeholders from North America, South America, Europe and Asia gathered to establish brain science as a foreign policy priority and to work toward the launch of an International Brain Initiative.

key stakeholders to establish brain science as a fo
reign policy
priority and to work toward the launch of an International Brain I

*Additional stakeholder-specific meetings have been held at other times and are ongoing. 

Feature Stories

The Human Connectome

Creating a Perfect Brain Storm
Nations around the world are making unprecedented investments in brain research. How will each one leave its mark—and what could they achieve together?

Neuron cover on global neuroscience

Global Neuroscience
A special issue of the journal Neuron, including the article "The BRAIN Initiative: Building, Strengthening, and Sustaining" by The Kavli Foundation's Christopher L. Martin, Science Program Officer, and Miyoung Chun, Executive Vice President of Science Programs. 

The Human Connectome

It Takes the World to Map the Brain
Leaders from the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, Europe’s Human Brain Project and Japan’s Brain/MINDS discuss their ambitious research efforts aimed at nothing less than transforming our understanding of the human brain.

Selected News Stories

The Kavli Foundation commends the establishment of an international brain initiative
Global collaboration among brain researchers will accelerate progress toward understanding and treating the brain.

International brain projects proposed
More than 60 neuroscientists from 12 countries met to discuss a lofty goal: a global neuroscience collaboration that would link their efforts and rival big science investments in astronomy and physics.

Three grand challenges for brain science that can be solved in the next ten years
Neuroscientists have formulated a list of the great outstanding problems in brain science that can be solved in the near future. 

Grand project to unify efforts to understand the brain 
The lofty aim of the Coordinating Global Brain Projects meeting is to unify worldwide efforts to study the brain, in the same way that international collaborations have spurred on astronomy, physics and genetics.

World-wide brain-mapping project sparks excitement—and concern
Worries include how to coordinate research programmes and resources from different countries. 

Big dreams emerge for big science projects
Meeting demonstrates enthusiasm for the idea that transnational cooperation can, must, and will, at last, explain the brain.