Health rising blog post, by Cort Johnson, 8 Jan 2017: The Brain Initiative: a Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) perspective

In the third of three blogs looking at the research efforts of tomorrow and their potential impact on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) Health Rising looks at the biggest effort of all: the Brain Initiative.

The Brain Initiative

We’ve always suspected that technology is going to provide the answers for diseases like fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), and nowhere are technological advances more important or necessary than in the brain. With its 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections encased in its difficult to penetrate bone helmet it’s easily the hardest organ to get at and understand – and possibly the most important.

Almost all of the symptoms associated with FM and ME/CFS such as the fatigue, pain, cognitive issues, sleep and stimuli problems could conceivably have their origin in the brain. While brain scans regularly find abnormalities in FM, for instance, they’re not precise enough to tell us which neurons, astrocytes or glial cells are causing the problems in these diseases. Similarly, while magnetic stimulation and other brain stimulation techniques can be helpful they’re still crude techniques that lack the ability to target specific brain cells.

On April 2, 2013, the White House proposed a 10-year project—the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) – to unlock the mysteries of the brain. This Manhattan style project brought together a roster of experts to “catalyze an interdisciplinary effort of unprecedented scope. After a year of work the group reported a series of goals:

  • To classify all the cells in the brain in order to learn how to tweak what
    To produce a full “connectome” of all the millions of connective circuits in the brain
  • Understanding the electrical and chemical activity each type of neuron in the brain engages in
  • Finding new ways to effect brain activity

New tools need to be developed to succeed at each of these goals. The data gathered will be so immense as to require that new statistical methods be produced to adequately analyze it.

The Brain Initiative started funding projects in 2014. Here are some of its recently funded projects:


Changing Brain Activity – a “magnetothermal toolbox” that will locate and activate specific neurons in the brain – thereby paving the way for more precise ways of stimulating or de-stimulating the brain.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to the Rescue?

  • miniaturized rTMS elements that will alter brain activity more precisely and at deeper levels of the brain
  • combine TMS with MRIs in order to simultaneously stimulate multiple brain regions

Focused…Really Focused Ultrasounds

  • Newer functional ultrasounds that use acoustic signals to measure blood vessel volume, however, put older techniques to shame. They’re about 10x more precise.
  • low intensity ultrasound to regulate the activity of neurons in the brain – “sonogenetics” uses sound waves to do just that.
  • creating gaseous nanovesicles (really, really, really small vesicles) derived from microbes that can be introduced into the brain to view the brain, particularly in its deeper levels.
  • a wearable FUS cap that’s designed to modulate the activity of overactive sensorimotor regions of the brain

Shhh…..A Quiet TMS – an inaudible TMS (a qTMS or quiet TMS) machine that is more tolerable, safer, more precise and even more effective.

A Walk Down Memory Lane Again? – a new brain stimulation procedure called “HF-Stim” to enhance the hippocampal-cortical networks which enable us to have memories.


The Inflammation Behind Neuroinflammation – DREADDS ( Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) to determine which kinds of cells are producing neuroinflammation.

Good Vibes – Virtual Brain Electrode project will load red blood cells with magnetic particles in order for researchers to indicate exactly which part of the brain those pathogenic EEG signals are coming from.

fMRI – new technology to tell which kinds of neurons (inhibitory/excitatory) or glial cells are causing problems, which will help determine which kinds of treatment might be best.

Microscopic Resolution – combining fMRIs with other brain imaging technologies to provide three-dimensional maps at the microscopic level of the brain when it is active.

Read more about these projects and how they might benefit people with ME/CFS and FM in the full article at Health Rising.

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