Mental Health and Brain Research Institute of Texas

By Harris Eyre MD PhD

Brain disorders across the lifespan cause tremendous pain and suffering for individuals and families. Young parents lose infants or discover their child has a debilitating, lifelong brain disease such as autism, cerebral palsy, blindness, etc; military veterans struggle with suicidality; professionals are struck down by degenerative brain diseases such as MS, ALS in the prime of their life. These greatly impact our communities and economy.

These crises solutions demand major focused research commitments. Recent discoveries in neuroscience have radically revised our understanding of the brain’s lifelong ability to change, adapt, and improve its function. Concerted resources need to be directed toward preventive, predictive, and restorative brain research, identifying strategies, tools and treatments for improving brain health and wellness. WHO defines brain health as the promotion of optimal brain development, cognitive health, and well-being across the life course (Brain Health. World health organization, 2022), and allows for the possibilities to push out age of disease onset or lessen the disability of brain disease and injuries.

Brain health has profound implications for every person across their lifespan. Improving the health of the human brain has recently become a pivotal goal on the road towards enhancing population health more broadly. The brain drives all that we do, think, create, overcome, solve, and feel. A healthy brain is essential for developing other healthy habits, for elevating well-being, enhancing social connection, increasing years of productivity, and expanding creativity to deal with challenges across the entire lifespan The brain is our most vital organ, yet most of us do not give our brain a second thought unless it is injured, diseased or declining.   This science needs urgent attention so we can achieve for brain health what has been done for heart health.

The following is a clarion call for a CPRIT-type state-funded institute to research, increase understanding of, and develop novel treatments for enhanced brain health to build a more vibrant Texas. The goal is to combat debilitating conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s and ALS, as well as to help all Texans become the architects of their own brains, improving their ability to flourish at any age.


Today there is a renewed interest in a Texas-led, comprehensive, cutting-edge approach to integrating brain discoveries, brain metrics, and applied brain science across the myriad challenges facing our state. From the science of early learning to strategies for combating mental health issues to imbedding peak brain performance in workforce readiness, the time is now to focus our collective energies and funding on the brain.

The pandemic highlighted the brain health crisis that has been developing for decades, as manifested by increasing mental health challenges, sleep disorders, anxiety, social divisiveness, and brain fog. An estimated 22-32% of patients who recovered from COVID-19 experience brain fog and cognitive challenges as part of their experience of long COVID. Other research suggests that one-third of COVID sufferers will have a new-onset or recurrent psychiatric problem (often depression or anxiety) in the ensuing year.  Additionally, it is not just people with severe COVID who are affected. Studies have found that people across all stages of COVID, including those who were hospitalized and those who were not, have experienced challenges with attention, memory, and executive functioning. From a clinical perspective, we know that several factors can lead to post-COVID cognitive problems and mental disorders, including pre-existing illnesses, damage from the virus itself, neuroinflammation, and vascular damage. However, further research is needed to understand the mechanisms and implications of COVID on the brain.

Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease were exacerbated by the pandemic, increasing 145% in 2020, and by 2050, the cost for Alzheimer’s patients alone is expected to reach $750 billion per year.

Disruptions in the education system have left millions of children falling behind, and U.S. students lag more and more behind their peers in other countries. In 2018, the U.S. ranked 32nd in math literacy and 10th in science literacy, among 35 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Since 9/11, over 7,000 service members have died in military operations, yet we have lost over 30,000 active-duty service members and veterans by suicide, suggesting warriors may be four times more likely to die from suicide than in combat.

Even in otherwise healthy adults, our bodies outlive our brains by 20-plus years.

At the same time, our businesses and workplaces have become increasingly knowledge-intensive. There is pressure to be creative, curious, adaptable, and motivated to keep up with changes in technology, globalization and emerging work styles. In the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and ensuing labor shortages, the importance of a brain healthy workforce that can adjust to change is ever more apparent.

A newly created Mental Health and Brain Research Institute of Texas (MHBI) can lead a ground swell of innovation ranging from precision diagnostics and treatments to future-proofing economic policies and innovative investing models that put brain health at the forefront. Texas is uniquely positioned to lead the way for the country and the world.

The rewards and sources of economic growth are significant – increased sales revenue, greater local, state and federal tax revenues.  Brain health-focused life sciences companies will build infrastructure in Texas to ensure they are proximal to the innovation, creating high quality, high paying jobs. Further, cost savings will be realized via reduced health care costs.

The competition to lead the field of brain health is mounting. Major efforts underway include the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative, Healthy Brains Global Initiative and the European Academy of Neurology’s Brain Health Strategy.

Texas leads the United States and much of the world in creating economic growth that fuels quality of life. This is an opportunity to be on the forefront that we cannot afford to lose.

Brain Health and the Economy

Peak brain performance is intricately linked to enhancing productivity and the economy. Globally, an estimated $2.5 trillion is lost due to poor brain performance. In the aftermath of COVID lockdowns and ensuing labor shortages, the importance of a brain healthy workforce that can adjust to change is ever more apparent.

Appendix 1: Overview of Texas State Legislature funded brain or mental health projects:

Appendix 2: Other large scale national and global brain health funding initiatives:

●        California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative Release a Statement of Interest to Advance Brain Research
The Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative (DAC) and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) are announcing their interest in working together on a shared mission to accelerate the discovery, assessment, and delivery of precision and effective therapeutic interventions for diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease. CIRM, created and based in California, is the world’s largest institution dedicated to helping people by bringing the future of cellular medicine closer to reality. CIRM, was created in 2004 with a $3B bond funding under Proposition 71 which was enacted by voters to support stem cell research in California. In 2020, California voters approved the passage of Proposition 14, which dedicates $1.5B for the support of research and the development of treatments for diseases and conditions of the central nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

A 2019 independent Economic Impact Report conducted by the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC says that CIRM has had a major impact on California’s economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes, and producing billions of dollars in additional revenue for the state.  The report looked at the impacts of CIRM funding on both the state and national economy from the start of the Stem Cell Agency in 2004 to the end of 2018.

The estimated impacts from the report are:

  • $10.7 billion of additional gross output (sales revenue)
  • $641.3 million of additional state/local tax revenues
  • $726.6 million of additional federal tax revenues
  • 56,549 additional full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, half of which offer salaries considerably higher than the state average

Furthermore, an additional 2019 independent report conducted by the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at USC says that developing stem cell treatments and cures for some of the most common and deadly diseases could produce multi-billion dollar benefits for California in reduced healthcare costs and improved quality and quantity of life.