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Qualcomm lends knowledge to BRAIN Initiative

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Qualcomm Inc. will play a part in the Basic Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, which President Barack Obama announced Tuesday.

The $100 million BRAIN Initiative will map the complex interactions between brain cells and neurological circuits beginning in 2014. The research effort aims to uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

Matt Grob, chief technology officer of San Diego-based Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM), was at the White House for the announcement.

The initiative will necessitate stimulating and recording an unprecedented number of neurons, requiring real-time data processing, Grob said.

"These goals will be facilitated by wireless data collection. Given Qualcomm’s rich heritage in wireless communications, we are well-positioned to make contributions to the BRAIN Initiative," Grob said.

Salk Institute neuroscientist Terrence J. Sejnowski also attended the launch.

"This initiative is a boost for the brain like the Human Genome Project was for the genes," said Sejnowski, the Francis Crick chair and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk. "This is the start of the million-neuron march."

Modeling the functional connectivity of the brain will be a challenging task.

Qualcomm is developing a neural simulation accelerator, known as Neuromorphic hardware, that can potentially enable large-scale, real-time neural simulations, as well as a comprehensive software tool suite that will enable rapid development and analysis of neural models.

"We hope to apply new insights gained from the BRAIN Initiative to our development efforts concerning scalable Neuromorphic hardware," Grob said.

The Qualcomm research team includes neuroscientists and applied mathematicians with a background in multiunit cortical recordings and neural network modeling.

In addition to Qualcomm’s internal efforts, it has a co-development agreement and an investment in the Brain Corp.

The first $100 million for the initiative will be included in the fiscal 2014 budget coming out April 10, the president said. Congress could then decide to change the amount or eliminate the program altogether. Obama cited government research that spun out new discoveries and jobs, such as computer chips, GPS technology and the Internet.

Sejnowski compared the initiative to the start of the space race.

"Imagine how it must have felt to be a rocket engineer when Kennedy said we would reach for the moon," Sejnowski said. "You know there's an almost unimaginable amount of hard work ahead of you -- and yet you can't wait to get started."

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