A $500 million international project will create the most detailed map of the brain ever
Despite decades of research, the human brain remains largely a mystery to science. A new $500 million The plan to create the most comprehensive map of this one could help change that.
Our brain is one of the most complex objects in the known universe. Deciphering how they work could bring huge benefits, from finding ways to treat brain diseases and neurological disorders to inspiring new forms of artificial intelligence.
But a critical starting point is establishing a parts list. While everyone knows that brains are mostly made up of neurons, there is a dazzling array of different types of these cells. Not to mention the different types of glial cells which make up the connective tissue of the brain and play a crucial supporting role.
This is why the National Inthe BRAIN initiative of health institutes has just announced $500 million in funding a five-year effort to characterize and map neurons and other cell types throughout the human brain. The project will be led by the Allen Institute in Seattle, but involves collaborations across 17 other institutions in the United States, Europe and Japan.
“These prizes will allow researchers to explore the multifaceted characteristics of the more than 200 billion neurons and non-neuronal cellss in the human brain in unprecedented detail and scale,” John Ngai, director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative, said in a press release.
The BRAIN initiative was launched in 2014 by former President Barack Obama to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. The new project builds on an earlier effort to identify and map over 100 cell types through the motor cortex of a mouse, and will borrow many of the tools and techniques developed for this effort.
These include approaches such as single-cell transcriptomics, which can measure gene expression of individual cells, and spatial transcriptomics, which can map gene expression across large sections of tissue and locate the gene activity in specific regions.
A group from the Salk Institute in San Diego will also focus specifically on how the brain changes with age by measuring changes in gene expression over time – known as epigenetic changes – in brain samples from people of varying ages.
It will be an ambitious task, however. The human brain is 1,000 times bigger than a mouse brain and much more complex, so scaling these techniques will not be a simple praccess. If they are successful, the resulting cell atlas will become a powerful and freely accessible resource for neuroscientists around the world.
“I really consider this to be the human genome project. We now have the ability to define cells as we were able to define the genes,” Ed Lein, who leads the Allen Institute contribution, Told STAT. “It’s the basis for beginning to understand many other aspects of biology and disease.”
These projects are part of a new round of funding dubbed BRAIN 2.0 launched earlier this year. Along with ramping up efforts to map different types of brain cells, $36 million will go to an initiative called the Armamentarium for access to precision brain cellswhich will use data on brain cell types to develop new tools designed to target them for study and possibly treatment.
And there’s more funding to come. Early next year, the NIH will distribute an additional $30 million to projects seeking to take the next step in mapping the brain, from listing parts to working out the wiring diagrams that govern the connection. different cells and regions.
With the project expected to generate petabytes of data, it will likely be years before scientists can fully utilize this new resource. But it could turn out to be a vital piece of the puzzle as we try to unlock the mysteries of the human brain.
Image credit: Allen Institute