#Mapping the #brain, a terabyte at a time.

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-O-qWAptx_MU/ Ta0nmZm66NI/AAAAAAAAG68/UfsdBxKfBOo/s1600/ Brain_map-660×447.jpg

With gadgets and softwares like smartphones and Google Maps around, earth seems like a smaller and easier place to visit than it actually is. Good, so we’ve got earth all figured out.

What about discovering how information travels in your brain? Does information really “travel” or do we simply come up with ideas/thoughts/emotions? How do we process information, or think? Exactly what happens when we think? Why does something happen in the brain when we think? Where does it happen? What doesn’t happen & why not? What causes information or ideas to move in the first place?

O.M.G :O ?!

All those redundantly annoying (but interesting!) questions are going to be answered when scientists can track and map data-flow in the brain. Researchers already have gotten a head start and labeled it as “brain-mapping”.

For the time being there are several ongoing projects to properly map out the human brain (check the # of sources!). Millions of dollars are being spent on the research; approximately $40 million per project. What triggered these researches were the countless failed attempts at figuring out Alzheimer’s and other severe brain dysfunctional diseases. These issues are surrounded by random theories and ideas which had to be flushed away thanks to latest developments in technology.

I won’t go into specifics as to who is running which project (that’s what the sources and Google are for). What I will tell you is that the brain is being scanned inside and out thanks to fMRI scanning (covered by R4T before) alongside database modeling techniques which require almost a terabyte worth of disk space per brain. Thanks to cheaper hard disk prices and faster computational processing already in place, datasets are being stored and imaged at *very* detailed quality – with efficiency.

Most of the human-brain projects haven’t released a lot of information to the public domain. However, there are a few projects which have been gathering and releasing data, and should be noted.

The virtual brain project
(Toronto-based global effort, research spanning across 10 countries):

This project released a software that provides access to all the collected images/data to anyone around the world. Download it here. It’s still an on-going effort, but seems to be the most promising as it not only aims to discover the active parts of the brain, but the quiet ones as well. Truth is, a brain is CONSTANTLY working (either in an inactive or active state), monitoring all states of minds is what needs to be covered if one wants to understand how information flows inside. The team plans to release a web-interface to access this information::

“The main system will be accessible through a simple web browser, making it very easy to upload imaging data, running 3D-animated simulations in WebGL and getting results back.”

A key statement of their findings:

“The Virtual Brain builds upon the discovery of the critical network parameters of the human brain, their influence to functional processes and their proper tweaking to rectify a malfunctioning or damaged network.”

 

The Human Brain Project (Blue Brain)
(European project)

This group is focusing on using other animals for brain mapping. After thorough testing, they will create ‘default’ mapping tools for human-brain exploration. Eventually their ultimate goal is to simulate a brain of any animal under any state of mind::

As the project progresses the facility will develop the knowhow and tools to model and simulate the brain of any animal, at any stage of its development, in any state of health or with any specific disease.

HBJ has *much* bigger plans than mapping out the brain though, which might sound a bit sci-fi. After learning how to simulate and map the brain: they want to use ‘supercomputers’ doing multi-level analysis and brain-like thinking (neuromorphic computing devices) while using as much power as a human brain; each brain uses power equivalent to a light bulb.

The Brain Architecture
(Database knowledge center of neuron system architecture)

This organization aims to cover brains of human and mouse only. They’ve been releasing data to the public about their Mouse Brain Architecture project. MBA is a project that enticed public and scientific interest for the first time via 2-D and 3D image rendering. Their goal is to specifically highlight inputs and outputs inside the brain. Mouse-brain information and images are available to view and explore: Click here to browse.

After inspecting some of the pictures, I didn’t understand much of it. Although, a visual inspection will show you what a thought process looks like (in colours!!) inside the brain of a mouse. I have to say this is a magnificent achievement! They’ve also created accessible libraries for information on human-brains, check out their website for more info (Source 7).

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What do I think of all this? I’m a bit Scared, why?
Well, whatever scientific leap mankind has ever made – it has lead to 2 things: good and bad. Good things would include scientific discoveries, availability of goods or medicines, better healthcare etc. Meanwhile, bad things would include bio-weapons, WMD’s, political and global rivalry, and other pre-apocalyptic concerns.

Realistically, I have to say I’m more inclined towards ‘partially excited’ here. It has been centuries since scientists have been able to explore the brain with such an immense amount of depth. So far, we’ve only touched the surface of the brain, or cut a piece here and there. Brain-inspection has never been a possibility, which is why brain-related diseases have been surrounded by black magic, psychoanalysis, or theories. Nothing has ever lead to a successful/expected human recovery.

I hope this research can help people with abnormal brain activity or show quantifiable results for mankind in general. I can’t wait till the day when doctors start ‘healing’ patients in an instant or just by inserting their information in a browser – sort of like Google/Wikipedia.

Source1: Mapping the brain for Post-Stroke patients
Source2: Required database tech for mapping
Source3: Connectome Project
Source4: Successful brain map of a mouse – 500TB of data released to the public
Source5: Mouse Brain Library (pics)
Source6: Virtual Brain Project
Source7: Brain Architecture – Humans

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