Advancing Brain Capital: Achievements, Lessons, and Next Steps

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A transdisciplinary team summarizes key points and reflections after 18 months of activity.

Global society is faced with interrelated challenges that are complex, systemic, and dynamic from climate change, population displacement, famine, productivity slowdown, and mis- and dis-information to cyber exploitation, mental health crisis epidemics, aging and dementia, COVID-19-related losses, and fraying trust in social and political institutions.

In the midst of these crises, a group of neuroscientists, medical doctors, and economists came together to develop new concepts, ideas, and tools to use brain science to tackle some of society’s most pressing problems. A seminal paper outlining their preliminary thinking on brain capital was published in January 2021.1 The agenda has significantly advanced since through deeper, transdisciplinary research and narratives; broader academic, business, and policy networks; and refined measurement to guide all stakeholders and monitor progress. The Brain Capital Alliance takes this to the next level.

Each of us possesses a complex system—the brain—which is implicated in the emergence, propagation, aggravation, and potential resolution of these challenges. To address these issues, a neuropolitical approach that considers brain capacity as a crucial asset is needed. The insights can be translated into policy, business practices, and civil society advocacy. In response to the urgent needs, a group of researchers and policymakers developed the concept of brain capital.

Brain capital is based on the position that brains are the world’s most important resource and the means by which all problems will be solved, ameliorated, or worsened. The brain capital framework acknowledges the importance of every brain and the corresponding need for brain diversity to achieve equity in solving global issues. Brain capital is a framework incorporating brain health and brain skills in the knowledge economy. In an era that is dependent on intellectual capacity, our brains are our greatest asset. Brain capital provides an approach to define brain issues, quantify them, and track them. Brain preservation and enhancement is critical to advancing brain capital, which can be driven into local, national, and international policies and investments.1

Despite the fundamental importance of brain health and brain skills, these factors are often overlooked in policy-making and are not well-reflected in measures of human capital.2 Brain capital differs from human capital in its recognition of the unique role that brain health and brain skills play in human civilization. Unlike human capital measures, which look at broad educational and health metrics, brain capital encompasses and measures brain health as well as society- and economy-critical variables such as collective confidence, social trust, and shared values and goals. These key social processes in turn depend on critical aspects of individual human functioning such as perceived control, confidence, ability to work collectively, problem-solving capacity, and values-driven goals. It also differs from human capital in its encompassing and measurement of economy-shaping brain health measures such as addiction, depression, anxiety, brain fog, loneliness, and dementia.

There is a range of notable achievements of brain capital in the past 18 months, including new initiatives, expanded partnerships, and more outreach and influence. These are interlocking and mutually reinforcing.

The Organisation of Economic Collaboration and Development (OECD) established the Neuroscience-inspired Policy Initiative in collaboration with the PRODEO Institute.3 Consultations have been held with the United National Development Programme and the World Health Organization (WHO). The OECD NIPI supported the European Brain Initiative in collaboration with EBRAINS, French EU Presidency, the European Commission, the WHO, scientific societies, patient organizations, and health professionals.4 The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute appointed a senior fellow for brain capital.5 A new chair of excellence in brain capital will be established as part of the recently funded PEPR ProPsy, a project to develop precision psychiatry in France.6 The Global Brain Health Institute7 and the Latin American Brain Health Institute (BrainLat)8 both launched brain capital summer courses, respectively.9

Brain capital also received notable mentions in 2 US Congressional presentations in front of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus10 and the US House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth.11 There has been engagement with major think tanks including the Center for European Policy Studies12 and The Brookings Institution.13

Two working groups were also established. The Brain Health Diplomacy Working Group aims to formalize the field of brain health diplomacy14 and to develop a brain health diplomat toolkit. Working group members include former US State Department official Virginia Bennett and former US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy (D-RI). The Brain Capital Dashboard working group aims to quantify and track brain capital and is constituted by economists, neuroscientists, and physicians. This is seen as a critical project and will subserve future policy innovations.

Additional notable achievements for the brain capital agenda are outlined in the Table.

Most recently, the Brain Capital Alliance, a public-private-people partnership, was launched via a series of events in Europe.6 The alliance aims to advance approaches to measurement, investment, and policy and will further integrate brain capital into policy agendas including productivity, climate change, political stability, gender equality, and neurotechnology. The alliance will raise awareness among public and private leaders for neuroscience-related issues across the life span, from early childhood development to youth resilience and brain reserve, to reduce the risk of cognitive decline in older adults.

The Brain Capital Dashboard will be refined and leveraged in policy discussions. Specific research labs will be developed to experiment at different scales and will be applied to real world problems such as micro-plastic pollution, the youth mental health crisis, caregiver distress, and disinformation. These platforms will improve the statistical bases and analytical foundation to guide decisions and assess progress. Novel financial instruments will also be explored to unlock additional funding for building brain capital such as bonds, venture capital, and exchange traded funds.

The alliance is seeking interested supporters, collaborators, and partners to accelerate this work.

As we look toward the future, it is imperative that brain capital continues to be developed and integrated into policy, business, and society. To sustainably solve the most pressing global challenges, we must place brain capital at the heart of solutions. We must develop ways to use brain science to overcome the most difficult, seemingly intractable global problems.

Dr Eyre is the lead of the Brain Capital Alliance, co-lead of the OECD NIPI and Senior Fellow with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Eyre maintains advisory or adjunct roles with IMPACT at Deakin University, the Heka Fund, Brain Health Nexus at Cohen Veterans Bioscience, GBHI, Baylor College of Medicine, BrainLat, University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative, and the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association (EMEA). Dr Hynes is an associate fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Dr Berk is the director of the IMPACT Institute at Deakin University. Ms Smith is an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute, a Thiel Fellow at Stanford University, and a Steering Committee member for the OECD Neuroscience-inspired Policy Initiative. Dr Cummings is theJoy Chambers-Grundy Professor of Brain Science; director of the Chambers-Grundy Center for Transformative Neuroscience; and co-director of the Pam Quirk Brain Health and Biomarker Laboratory, Department of Brain Health, School of Integrated Health Sciences, University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).

References

1. Smith E, Ali D, Wilkerson B, et al. A brain capital grand strategy: toward economic reimagination. Mol Psychiatry. 2021;26(1):3-22.

2. Angrist N, Djankov S, Goldberg PK, Patrinos HA. Measuring human capital using global learning data. Nature. 2021;592(7854):403-408.

3. Neuroscience-inspired Policy Initiative. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.oecd.org/naec/brain-capital/

4. Towards a European brain initiative. EBRAINS. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.ebrains.eu/news/Towards-a-European-Brain-Initiative/

5. Harris Eyre, MBBS, PhD: senior fellow for brain capital. Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://mmhpi.org/staff/harris-eyre-phd/

6. Brain Capital Alliance launches to accelerate agenda for change. Newsmatics Inc. News release. July 17, 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.einnews.com/pr_news/581691203/brain-capital-alliance-launches-to-accelerate-agenda-for-change

7. Brain capital continues to advance. Global Brain Health Institute. September 7, 2022. Accessed September 8, 2022. https://www.gbhi.org/news-publications/brain-capital-continues-advance

8. Bär N. Políticas públicas y neurociencia, la deuda con la salud cerebral. El Destape. September 1, 2022. Accessed September 7, 2022. https://www.eldestapeweb.com/sociedad/salud/politicas-publicas-y-neurociencia-la-deuda-con-la-salud-cerebral-2022910526?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1662030318

9. Improving brain health and reducing the scale and impact of dementia worldwide. Global Brain Health Institute. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.gbhi.org/

10. Congressional Neuroscience Caucus Briefing long haul neurological & psychological impacts of COVID19. American Brain Coalition on YouTube. May 18, 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdUwKIHccFE

11. Graham C. Addressing America’s crisis of despair and economic recovery: a call for a coordinated effort. Testimony to the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. September 28, 2021. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Carol-Graham-Testimony-Sept-28-2021.pdf

12. Launch event of the Brain Capital Alliance: towards a person-centered approach to brain health. CEPS Think Tank on YouTube. July 4, 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo2dASiMrd4

13. Dawson WD, Graham C, Smith E, et al. Build brains better: a proposal for a White House brain capital council to accelerate post-COVID recovery and resilience. The Brookings Institute. December 22, 2021. Accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.brookings.edu/research/build-brains-better-a-proposal-for-a-white-house-brain-capital-council-to-accelerate-post-covid-recovery-and-resilience/

14. Dawson WD, Bobrow K, Ibanez A, et al. The necessity of diplomacy in brain health. Lancet Neurol. 2020;19(12):972-974.