Brain health is a critical aspect of human well-being, affecting cognitive abilities, socioemotional stability, and overall quality of life. However, the growing prevalence of brain disorders is taking a steep economic toll. Mental health disorders alone are estimated to cost the global economy $5 trillion per year, and this is projected to rise to $16 trillion by 2030.
The economic burden of brain and mental health-related disorders — along with the need to fuel creativity and innovation so the U.S. can economically outperform near-peer competitors — has prompted the need for a brain science-inspired industrial strategy that will build America’s brain capital (i.e., the cognitive, emotional, and social brain resources of its citizens).
A full explanation of this strategy and a road map of how to achieve a next-generation brain technology industry was unveiled at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Science Summit on Sept. 18 and Sept. 19. Through this proposal, my colleagues and I aim to address the key brain health challenges facing America: mental health issues, rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease, widespread and poorly managed learning disorders, and the need to surge creativity and entrepreneurship within the American economy.
Our proposed “brain capital industrial strategy” — outlined in detail in a recent paper published by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy — is a public sector strategy that focuses on building economic resilience through an emphasis on cultivating citizens’ brain health and brain skills to contribute to an innovative and thriving economy. It comprises the following seven core components:
- Developing and investing in brain capital technologies.
Brain capital technologies are defined as neuroscience-inspired technologies addressing the confluence of mental health and substance use, neurology, neuroscience, adolescence, education, the future of work, creativity and innovation, and brain performance. These technologies aim to improve the entire spectrum of care from prevention to screening, diagnosis, treatment, and continuing care. Brain capital technology is the next generation of “braintech” that promises to unlock an American-led $1 trillion-plus industry.
- Aligning the built environment.
The cities and buildings we live in are often not conducive to physical or mental fitness. Simple principles like daylight, air quality, acoustics, access to nature, accessible sidewalks, walkable/bikeable neighborhoods, opportunities for social connection, and access to housing, health care, arts, and other amenities can go a long way to develop a health-built environment. When layered with the right digital infrastructure, this can set communities up for harnessing brain capital.
- Utilizing novel financial incentives and innovations.
New approaches to funding and fueling brain capital technologies and brain capital-aligned venture capital funds will be critical to advance our brain capital industrial strategy. For example, double bottom line or impact investing looks at returns on investment from both financial and social perspectives.
- Ensuring workforce preparedness.
Building brain capital is a priority for a resilient workforce. Companies that focus on their employees’ well-being often outperform their rivals. Those that prioritize the needs of their communities alongside the financial interests of their shareholders will be more resilient and therefore better positioned to build value and recover from setbacks.
- Leveraging a mission-oriented approach for brain capital.
A mission-oriented approach is an ambitious, bold, and progressive way of tackling major global challenges of the 21st century. This concept argues that governments should actively shape markets to meet certain challenges, set clear goals, and instigate public-private partnerships that encourage innovation, risk-taking, and collaboration for the good of society as a whole. By leveraging this approach, we hope to launch a clearly defined brain capital mission comprising a portfolio of sub-missions. These neuroscience-inspired missions will be conceptualized and launched across sectors and supported through the cooperation of public and private sectors.
- Articulating supportive policies.
In order to optimize brain capital via a new industrial policy in the U.S., there must be aligned actions for brain capital in other policy areas — including food policy, social infrastructure, sustainability, and artificial intelligence policy, among other areas. These policies are all intertwined and impact the development of brain capital across industries and societies.
- Coordinating within government.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus should collaborate on a task force to launch a brain capital mission by bringing together experts from various fields, including neuroscience, medicine, technology, and policy. Additionally, the construction of a U.S. brain capital dashboard should begin immediately to allow for the quantification and tracking of brain capital metrics longitudinally. Finally, coordination across various government entities — including the National Institutes of Health, Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA),Office of the Surgeon General, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and National Science Foundation, among others — will be key to ensure that the brain capital mission is achieved.
We note that to realize this bold vision, a collaborative approach is imperative. Governments, academia, and private industry must unite in pursuit of a common goal: to improve brain function and enhance human potential. Funding initiatives, research partnerships, and open dialogue will be critical to drive this movement forward.
Currently, actors in these fields are disconnected and often compete against each other — like individual neurons firing without harmonization. Our industrial strategy aims to use public and private sector approaches to link these fields so the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Through our strategy, we can pool resources, talent, science, technology, and financial innovations to not only boost the nation’s brain capital, but also stimulate its economy.
The brain capital industrial strategy is a clarion call to leverage the incredible power of the human brain in ways previously unimaginable. It calls for strategic investments in research, development, and application of brain-related technologies, thereby nurturing an industry that harnesses the full potential of our most valuable resource — our minds.
By championing an American-led industry focused on improving brain function, we have the chance to reshape industries, enhance lives, and shape a future that defies limits.
This material may be quoted or reproduced without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given to the author and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The views expressed herein are those of the individual author(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.