Australian Brain Initiative Could Be First to Develop a Bionic Brain

By Petrina Smith
Tuesday, 25 February, 2014

Australia could be the first country to develop a bionic brain, according to the Inspiring smarter brain research in Australia report, to be launched today by Health Minister Peter Dutton.
The report contains recommendations from a High Flyers Think Tank hosted by the Australian Academy of Science in Melbourne last year which brought world leaders in artificial intelligence, brain imaging and neuroscience together with 60 outstanding Australian early- and mid-career researchers.
They recommend the creation of the Australian Brain initiative, AusBrain, to improve and better coordinate Australia’s efforts in brain research – including building the first bionic brain.
Think Tank convenor Professor Bob Williamson said Australia has a great record in brain research.
“The bionic ear was developed here, and we are close to designing a bionic eye that works,” he said. “A bionic brain would extend this, and accurately model other brain functions.  It could help us to understand and treat conditions like Alzheimer's, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain trauma in soldiers, accident victims and athletes. “It could even enable some brain function, such as control over walking after a stroke, to be ‘outsourced’ to computers.”
The report estimates that an effective investment in brain research, including creating a bionic brain, would cost about $250 million over the coming decade.  By comparison, brain and mind disorders already cost Australia about $20 billion annually.
“Research leading to prevention is always cheaper than spending on the care of people affected by brain disease or trauma,” Professor Williamson said.
The recommendations will be taken up by an implementation committee that includes researchers, mental health experts and industry. The committee will first meet in mid-2014 and will formally engage with governments.
“With our strong tradition of active studies of Alzheimer disease, mental illness, and sight and hearing disorders, Australia has the resources and expertise to become a world leader in brain research,” Professor Williamson said. “As manufacturing moves out, we need to help a smarter economy step in: we are fortunate that we have the skills and infrastructure to do the job.
“But we must join the international research effort now, alongside the United States and Europe, if we are to have the maximum health, biotechnology and economic benefits.”

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