Big initiatives to understand the workings of the brain
Neuroscience has a data problem. In our efforts to understand the brain researchers are generating ever greater amounts of data. The problem is, how can they gain meaning from it?
A recent study, that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data to produce the most detailed map to date of the human cortex, looked at data from 210 peoples’ brains. The researchers estimated that equated to 30 gigabytes of data per participant. Meaning over 6 terabytes of data were analyzed to form the map, and this was a study of a large section of cortex, not the whole brain.
The study used data provided by the human connectome project, an initiative to make data from large MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) studies available to researchers.
The upside of this work is that it will shed light on the workings of human brains in health and disease. The drawback is that, despite the large datasets produced, researchers can only resolve small areas of the brain, not individual neurons within those areas.
To image individual neurons and understand how these are connected, you need to look inside the brain, under a microscope.
Bigger insights from smaller brains
Rats and mice are mammals, and they share similar brain structures to that of humans, only smaller. By exploring brain cell activity and connectivity in rodent brains the ambitious European Blue Brain Project aims to build a computer representation of the human brain. They plan to achieve this using advanced mathematical techniques and IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer.
Read more: findings from the Blue Brain Project
An alternative, yet equally ambitious project from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, called the Allen BRAIN Initiative launched in 2016, this set out to build on its genetic and structural maps of the mouse brain by incorporating morphological (shape), genetic and electrical activity data from individual cells. From…