People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative but is calling for a shakeup of the committee in charge of the project. PETA says 16 of the 17 members of the committee “are people who experiment on monkeys, cats, mice, and other animals.”

PETA sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis S. Collins asking for the change in the working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director.

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative is a $100 million project announced by Obama on April 2. The BRAIN Initiative is an attempt to better understand the human brain through research and development of new technologies and tools. The president expresseed the hope that research, technology and methodologies developed for the BRAIN Initiative could lead to new treatments, preventative measures, or even cures, of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury caused by stroke. The project will be funded annually by the United States government as well as private partners.

According to the NIH the committee, co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia Bargmann, from The Rockefeller University, and Dr. William Newsome, from Stanford University, “Is being asked to articulate the scientific goals of the BRAIN initiative and develop a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones and cost estimates.”

PETA says of the 17 committee members, 16 experiment on animals, and since the goal of the BRAIN Initiative is to learn about the human brain, there should be an emphasis on including researchers and scientists who conduct research using human subjects.

Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president of laboratory investigations, said in a statement, “It's mind-boggling that our nation's leading human brain research program is being led almost entirely by people — including the committee co-chair — who drill holes into monkeys' and other animals' skulls instead of by progressive scientists who actually do research with humans. PETA is urging NIH to reform this committee before its members' limited perspective hinders developments in human health and also costs animals their lives.”

PETA believes that the BRAIN Initiative can be a success without having to conduct any experiments on animals. Using imaging techniques and human-based research has been effective in advancing the understanding of the human brain in the past, argues PETA, and the group believes the same principle can work for the BRAIN Initiative.

PETA also argues that studying diseases specific to humans, such as schizophrenia or depression, on animals that do not get such diseases will prove futile. PETA quotes Dr. Christer Nordstedt, Eli Lilly and Co.’s vice president of neuroscience research, who said in a Reuters article on the BRAIN Initiative, “We've been handicapped by the fact that we have been studying diseases in animals that don't really exist in animals. Mice don't get depression. They don't get schizophrenia. They don't get Alzheimer's disease.”

PETA’s full letter to the NIH can be viewed below.

April 15, 2013

Dr. Francis Collins

c/o Gretchen S. Wood Immediate Office of the Director National Institutes of Health One Center Drive, Room 114 Bethesda, MD 20892-0147

Via email:

Dear Dr. Collins and members of the Advisory Committee of the Director:

I am writing on behalf of PETA and our more than 3 million members and supporters to express serious concerns about the severely imbalanced team selected by the Advisory Committee of the Director (ACD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead President Obama’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The BRAIN Initiative’s goal of providing insight into human brain function and behavior to help cure disease is laudable, and there are thousands of esteemed scientists who do human-based research aimed at solving these problems. So, PETA was astonished to learn that of the 17 members appointed by the ACD to the BRAIN Initiative’s NIH Working Group, 16–including both co-chairs—are animal experimenters with very limited background in human brain research. For example, co-chair William Newsome has spent his entire 30 year career locking monkeys in cages, drilling into their skulls, screwing restraint devices to their skulls, implanting metal coils in their eyes and electrodes in their brains, forcing them to perform in experiments by depriving them of water and then killing them and dissecting their brains. Newsome also explained recently on Michael Krasny’s popular radio show on KQED that experiments on primates, mice and other animals will be a major part of the BRAIN Initiative.[1]

Needless to say, a human-centered program like the BRAIN Initiative should be guided primarily by the expertise of researchers working with humans and human-based methodologies. Yet, their point of view is hardly represented in the current roster of the Working Group, and this drastically biases and limits the perspective and assumptions on which the group operates, as well as its goals and plans for achieving them. This is ultimately a detriment to animals, public health, and American taxpayers, who now oppose experiments on animals more than ever before.[2]

Such a heavy bias toward experimenting on animals will not bring us to a greater understanding of the human brain, how it works, and what happens when things go wrong. It may even delay progress. In a recent Reuters piece on the BRAIN Initiative, Dr. Christer Nordstedt, vice president of neuroscience research and clinical development at Eli Lilly and Co, emphasized the limits of animal experiments and need for more human-based brain research, "We've been handicapped by the fact that we have been studying diseases in animals that don't really exist in animals. Mice don't get depression.

They don't get schizophrenia. They don't get Alzheimer's disease."[3] Indeed, studies have shown that data on brain structure and function can’t even be extrapolated from rats to mice,[4] never mind from these animals to humans. Indeed—while we all have desires, preferences and feel pain and pleasure—there are drastic differences in brain organization and function between humans and other animals, including other primates,[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11] even chimpanzees,[12] our closest genetic relatives.

Because of these fundamental anatomical and physiological differences, treatments for brain disorders that have been developed in animals are not applicable to humans. For example, nearly 500 neuroprotective treatments for stroke have worked in animals, but only aspirin and one other have been effective in humans.[13] In the realm of traumatic brain injury research, the International Brain Injury Association (IBIA) states, “Unfortunately despite considerable efforts to develop treatments for acute TBI (nearly 50 compounds have been tested in patients) none of the compounds advanced to phase III clinical trials have demonstrated evidence of efficacy.”[14] The IBIA goes on to state, “animal models of TBI cannot possibly capture the diversity of the human physical injury after TBI.”13 Indeed, one heavily-touted treatment for TBI developed in animals actually increased mortality rates in humans.[15]

Recognizing that “neurophysiological studies in laboratory animals…cannot address fundamental questions of human cognition….”[16] progressive researchers who are interested in learning about the human brain use exclusively human-based research methods such as advanced brain-imaging and -recording techniques including electrocorticography (ECoG),[17],[18] positron emission tomography (PET), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT),[19] functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)[20], magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG)[21] and computed tomography (CT).[22] These modern techniques allow the human brain to be safely studied down to the level of a single neuron,[23] and researchers can even temporarily and reversibly induce symptoms of brain disorders, like stroke, using methods like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).[24] Not only do these techniques eliminate the use of animals and the obstacle of interspecies extrapolation, they also “allow us to address directly in humans levels of cognition that would be extremely hard or impossible to test with animals.”[25] Likewise, a recent article in the journal Neurosurgery concluded, “No other practice in medicine has contributed more to the understanding of neuroanatomy and the neurosciences as dissection of the human cadaver.”[26]

Jennifer Spaeth, Director of the NIH Office of Federal Advisory Committee Policy , has stated that “balanced expertise [and] points of view” among members of NIH Working Groups are “highly recommended.”[27] Yet, the BRAIN Initiative Working Group appointed by the ACD is woefully imbalanced.

Dr. Collins and ACD members, before this project moves any further, PETA urges you to re-evaluate the membership of the Working Group and ensure that— consistent with the objectives of the BRAIN Initiative and maintaining balanced NIH committee membership—experts in human brain research are appointed to the leadership and expanded in the membership of the NIH Working Group.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I can be reached 860-882-2492 and We look forward to the resolution of this matter.


Justin Goodman

Director, Laboratory Investigations

cc: Dr. Cora Marrett, Director, NSF (

Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director, DARPA (

[1] KQED. (April 3, 2013). Obama Invests in Brain-Mapping Project. Retrieved from:

[2] Goodman, J. R., Borch, C. A., & Cherry, E. (2012). Mounting opposition to vivisection. Contexts, 11(2), 68-69.

[3] Mason, J. & Steenhuysen, J. (April 2, 2013). “Obama launches research initiative to study human brain.” Reuters. Retrieved from:

[4] McNamara, R. K., Namgung, U., & Routtenberg, A. (1996). Distinctions between hippocampus of mouse and rat: protein F1/GAP-43 gene expression, promoter activity, and spatial memory. Molecular brain research, 40(2), 177-187.

[5] Cáceres, M. et al. (2003). Elevated gene expression levels distinguish human from non-human primate brains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(22), 13030-13035.

[6] Dehaene, S. (2005). From monkey brain to human brain: A Fyssen foundation symposium. The MIT Press.

[7] Mantini, D., Corbetta, M., Romani, G. L., Orban, G. A., & Vanduffel, W. (2013). Evolutionarily Novel Functional Networks in the Human Brain?. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(8), 3259-3275.

[8] Passingham, R. (2009). How good is the macaque monkey model of the human brain?. Current opinion in neurobiology, 19(1), 6-11.

[9] Preuss, T. M. (2000). Taking the measure of diversity: comparative alternatives to the model-animal paradigm in cortical neuroscience. Brain, behavior and evolution, 55(6), 287-299.

[10] Tootell, R. B. et al. (1997). Functional analysis of V3A and related areas in human visual cortex. The journal of Neuroscience, 17(18), 7060-7078.

[11] Vanduffel, W., Fize, D., Peuskens, H., Denys, K., Sunaert, S., Todd, J. T., & Orban, G. A. (2002). Extracting 3D from motion: differences in human and monkey intraparietal cortex. Science, 298(5592), 413-415.

[12] Spocter, M. A., Hopkins, W. D., Barks, S. K., Bianchi, S., Hehmeyer, A. E., Anderson, S. M., ... & Sherwood, C. C. (2012). Neuropil distribution in the cerebral cortex differs between humans and chimpanzees. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 520(13), 2917-2929.

[13] Sena, E. S., van der Worp, H. B., Bath, P. M., Howells, D. W., & Macleod, M. R. (2010). Publication bias in reports of animal stroke studies leads to major overstatement of efficacy. PLoS biology, 8(3), e1000344.

[14] International Brain Injury Association, “Drug development in traumatic brain injury,” Feb. 2009

[15] Perel, P. et al. (2007). Comparison of treatment effects between animal experiments and clinical trials: systematic review. Bmj, 334(7586), 197.

[16] Suthana, N., & Fried, I. (2012). Percepts to recollections: insights from single neuron recordings in the human brain. Trends in cognitive sciences.

[17] Hill, N. J., Gupta, D., Brunner, P., Gunduz, A., Adamo, M. A., Ritaccio, A., & Schalk, G. (2012). Recording Human Electrocorticographic (ECoG) Signals for Neuroscientific Research and Real-time Functional Cortical Mapping. Journal of visualized experiments: JoVE, (64).

[18] Bouchard, K. E., Mesgarani, N., Johnson, K., & Chang, E. F. (2013). Functional organization of human sensorimotor cortex for speech articulation.Nature.

[19] Jasinska, A. J., Zorick, T., Brody, A. L., & Stein, E. A. (2013). Dual role of nicotine in addiction and cognition: A review of neuroimaging studies in humans. Neuropharmacology.

[20] Momjian, S., Seghier, M., Seeck, M., & Michel, C. M. (2003). Mapping of the neuronal networks of human cortical brain functions. In Advances and technical standards in neurosurgery (pp. 91-142). Springer Vienna.

[21] Tankus, A., Fried, I., & Shoham, S. (2012). Structured neuronal encoding and decoding of human speech features. Nature Communications, 3, 1015.

[22] Lim, K. O., Rosenbloom, M., & Pfefferbaum, A. (1995). In vivo structural brain assessment. Psychopharmacology: The Fourth Generation of Progress. New York: Raven Press, Ltd, 881-893.

[23] Suthana, N., & Fried, I. (2012). Percepts to recollections: insights from single neuron recordings in the human brain. Trends in cognitive sciences.

[24] Verin, E., Michou, E., Leroi, A. M., Hamdy, S., & Marie, J. P. (2012). “Virtual” Lesioning of the Human Oropharyngeal Motor Cortex: A Videofluoroscopic Study. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 93(11), 1987-1990.

[25] Lachaux, J. P., Rudrauf, D., & Kahane, P. (2003). Intracranial EEG and human brain mapping. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 97(4), 613-628.

[26] Moon, K., Filis, A. K., & Cohen, A. R. (2010). The birth and evolution of neuroscience through cadaveric dissection. Neurosurgery, 67(3), 799-810.

[27] Spaeth, J. (2009). Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Scientific Management Review Board. Retrieved from: