International Brain Initiative

At a meeting in Australia, representatives from various national brain projects agreed to establish an International Brain InitiativeLeft to right: Andrew Holmes, Australian Academy of Science; Linda Richards, Australian Brain Alliance; Caroline Montojo, The Kavli Foundation; Christoph Ebell, Human Brain Project
; Rafael Yuste, Kavli Institute for Brain Science, representative of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative; Shigeo Okabe, Japan Brain/MINDS; Sung-Jin Jeong, Korea Brain Research Institute; Hideyuki Okano, Japan Brain/MINDS; James Deshler, National Science Foundation, representative of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, at the Brains at the Dome meeting, Canberra, Australia
“Researchers working on brain initiatives from around the world recognise that they are engaged in an effort so large and complex that even with the unprecedented efforts and resources from public and private enterprise, no single initiative will be able to tackle the challenge to better understand the brain.”

— Declaration to create an International Brain Initiative (December 2017)

Declaration to Create 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)

Countries around the world are investing in basic research and new technologies that could transform our knowledge of the brain. Large-scale projects are underway 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 diverse brain research projects, including scientists, policymakers and funders, are coming together to create an International Brain Initiative.

In early December 2017, at a meeting hosted by the Australian Academy of Science, representatives from the world's major brain projects made a formal declaration to establish an International Brain Initiative. By coordinating their efforts globally, neuroscientists can speed up progress on ‘cracking the brain’s code.'

The declaration reads, in part: "Researchers working on brain initiatives from around the world recognise that they are engaged in an effort so large and complex that even with the unprecedented efforts and resources from public and private enterprise, no single initiative will be able to tackle the challenge to better understand the brain."

The initial members of the International Brain Initiative are the Australian Brain Alliance, Japan Brain/MINDS Project, Korea Brain Initiative, the E.U. Human Brain Project and the U.S. BRAIN Initiative. Brain research projects from other countries and regions are also invited to join.

Read the full press release and the 'Canberra Declaration.'


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

In 2016, dozens of public and private partners came together to discuss the establishment of an international alliance for brain research, similar in scope to global projects in physics, astronomy and genetics. These initial meetings were motivated in part by a congressional mandate to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which required it to convene a conference fostering collaboration among global brain projects. International coordination will help ensure that new investments in brain research will benefit scientists everywhere, maximize the impact of new discoveries and the return on investments in brain research. 

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 UNGA event, published in Newsweek, 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 initial meetings, scientific and policy leaders have continued to discuss ways in which the international community could work together to advance brain 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 U.S. BRAIN Initiative, The Kavli Foundation is facilitating a series of meetings aimed at coordinating among the various international brain projects. (See Timeline)


Brians at the Dome Workshop

December 2017: Brains at the Dome: A workshop on international brain initiatives
The Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Brain Alliance brought together some of the world’s major brain research projects to discuss opportunities for enhancing collaboration. Attendees represented the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, the E.U. Human Brain Project, the Korea Brain Project, the Japan Brain/MINDS Project, Israel Brain Technologies and the Australian Brain Alliance.

October 2017: Global Neuroethics Summit 2017
The Global Neuroethics Summit in Daegu, South Korea brought together brain project representatives and ethicists to focused on the neuroethical questions raised by brain research. The goal: To create a universal list of neuroethics questions that could be addressed across all brain projects — a list adaptable and informed by the cultural values and frameworks of each country.

September 2017: OECD: Neurotechnology and Society (pdf)
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in collaboration with The Kavli Foundation, brought together leaders from across fields and around the globe to discuss responsible innovation in neuroscience and neurotechnology, with the goal of enhancing the communication and coordination of the ethical, legal, societal, regulatory and economic aspects surrounding neurotechnologies internationally. The meeting continued discussions raised during the 2016 workshop, Neurotechnology and Society: Strengthening Responsible Innovation in Brain Science. A draft report is forthcoming in 2018.

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. A summary, “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

September 2016: 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.

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.

Global Brain Workshop 2016

April 2016: Global Brain Workshop 2016
More than 60 scientists from around the world — along with observers from national, private, and foundations — discussed the top challenges facing neuroscience during the next decade, and that could be solved as a global community. These grand challenges are summarized in Grand Challenges for Global Brain Sciences” and in a proposal to accelerate brain research by leveraging cloud-computing technologies: “To the Cloud! A Grassroots Proposal to Accelerate Brain Science Discovery.”

key stakeholders Brain Ie

*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, Human Brain Project and Japan Brain/MINDS discuss their ambitious research efforts aimed at nothing less than transforming our understanding of the human brain.

Selected News Stories

World’s brain initiatives move forward together
A meeting of representatives from some of the world’s major brain research projects, hosted by the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra, has made a declaration to establish an International Brain Initiative.

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.