• Spain's news in English
Spanish Face of the Week
Brainstorming for Obama: Rafael Yuste
“Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race”, said Obama in his February State of the Union Address. Photo: Saul Joeb/AFP & Youtube

Brainstorming for Obama: Rafael Yuste

Alex Dunham · 7 Mar 2013, 17:27

Published: 07 Mar 2013 17:27 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Rafael Yuste? Never heard of him.

Neither had most of the world until Obama mentioned his project in the State of the Union Address at the White House in February. Since then, he's popped up in places like the New York Times and Nature magazine.

OK. So who is he then?

Well, Dr Rafael Yuste is a Spanish neurologist at Columbia University who's been chosen to head up President Obama's Brain Activity Map Project. This is a massive 15-year research effort which will help us understand  — and hopefully cure — diseases like schizophrenia,dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and epilepsy.

Wow! That sounds complex and very pricy.

Indeed it is. If the project gets the green light from the US Congress in 2014, we're talking a multi-billion dollar plan.

But all signs point to Rafa being the man for the job. He's a professor of biological sciences and neuroscience who's been working out of Columbia’s Kavli Institute for Brain Science for the last 16 years. 

He's aiming to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for our DNA.

“The Human Genome Project cost $3 billion, and that was 15 years ago,” says Dr. Yuste. “This could be of that scale, or larger.”

How did the project come about?
The idea for the Brain Activity Map was born in a workshop in England in 2011 in a brainstorming meeting between neuroscientists and nano scientists and physicists. Since then, they've been talking with government officials and science administrators and they drew up a proposal for Obama.
Tell me more about this Brain Activity Map project.
Dr Yuste says the first five years will be all about mapping the activity of every neuron in worms, fruit flies, and mice. After 10 years, his team hopes to capture everything that goes on in the cerebral cortex.
Fifteen years from now,  they hope technology will be good enough to start reconstructing the activity of the human brain.
So why are they doing it?
Professor Yuste says: “In a way, it’s like trying to fix a car that’s broken. You can’t fix the car unless you understand how it works…then we can tackle these diseases and find cures for them.”
Story continues below…
His fascination for the brain stems back to his times as a doctor in Madrid, where he used to study schizophrenic patients. 
“We don’t understand how the brain works. It has 100 billion neurons, and it makes us what we are. Out of the activity of these neurons comes our personality, our minds. Everything that we are is a reflection of the activity of these neurons.”
Yuste and his team believe their mind-blowing project will help scientists diagnose and treat diseases that affect a billion people worldwide.

Alex Dunham (alex.dunham@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain's Podemos sees golden opportunity in Socialist woes
Pablo Iglesias is ready to step up in opposition. Photo: AFP

As Spain's conservatives prepare to re-take power after 10 months of political limbo, anti-austerity party Podemos has set its sights on replacing the divided Socialists as the main opposition force.

Wildlife ranger accused over decapitated bison in Valencia
The headless corpse of Sauro was found last month. Photo: Carlos Alamo / Reserva de Valdeserrillas

The case of the beheaded bison at a wildlife reserve in Valencia just got a whole lot weirder.

Spain jobless drops below 20% for first time in six years
The unemployed queuing up outside a Madrid job centre. Photo: AFP

Spain's unemployment fell below 20 percent for the first time in six years, official figures showed on Thursday.

'Saints not ghouls' insists Spanish church for Halloween
Suggested outfits from the Bishopric of Cadiz and Ceuta. Photo: Shower of Roses

Spanish bishops are urging good Christian children to forgo zombie, ghost and devil outfits and instead dress up as "saints, virgins and apostles".

Tough road ahead, Spain PM warns before return to power
Rajoy will try and form a government this week. Photo: AFP

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy warned on Wednesday of a tough road ahead as he prepares to take power again at the head of a minority government with little support.

Russia withdraws request to refuel warships in Ceuta
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was due to dock in Ceuta

Russia has withdrawn a request for its aircraft carrier group to be refuelled at the Spanish port of Ceuta, authorities confirmed.

Bulls replace guard dogs at scrap yard in Valencia
Two bulls will be patrolling the scrap yard in eastern Spain. Archive photo: AFP

Guard dogs were not proving enough of a deterrent to thieves at a car breakers yard in eastern Spain so the owner has brought in a pair of fighting bulls.

Two-headed shark born in Spanish laboratory
Scientists are studying the rare find. Photo: IBIMA / University of Malaga

Scientists at the University of Malaga found the embryo of a shark with two heads and just one body.

Spain under pressure to stop refuel of Russian warships
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is due to arrive in Ceuta. Photo: Mil Ru / Wikimedia

Spain is facing international pressure to refuse permission for a Russian warship flotilla to refuel in Ceuta en route to continuing airstrikes against the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Most wanted: Fugitive rapist arrested in Tenerife
Mohammed Jahangir Alam was arrested n Tenerife. Photo: Crimestoppers.

Mohammed Jahangir Alam, one of Britain's most wanted fugitives, who fled the country in 2008 after allegedly raping a woman, was found working in Tenerife.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available