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Posts Tagged ‘Brain’

At the start of 2013, the European Union awarded one of the two Future and Emerging Technology ‘flagship’ initiatives to the Human Brain Project (the other one going to a project focused on graphene). Almost simultaneously, President Barack Obama announced the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative in the US.

As one of the flagships initiatives, the Human Brain Project is due to receive a staggering €1 billion over 10 years, half of which will come from the European Union and other half from the funding agencies of the individual countries involved. It is a large collaboration involving over 100 partners, and €72 million (~US$98 million) will be awarded during the first 30 months alone. The principal goals of the project are to simulate the activity of a human brain using supercomputers and to use the knowledge obtained to improve the way computers work.

The BRAIN initiative originated from a call from a large number of scientists to launch a collaborative effort, which was named the Brain Activity Map project, to record and analyse the activity of large sets of neurons in the brain. This call was answered by the White House who backed it with the promise of several hundred million dollars of public funding over the next few years and called for support from private investors. So far, about US$110 million have been committed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation for the first year, and private investors have promised around US$130 million for each of the next few years.

The initiatives originate from two simple facts. First, that our current understanding of how the brain works is very poor, which hampers the discovery of effective cures for mental health diseases. Second, that the neuron network in the human brain is extremely vast and complex. Understanding the way in which signals are transmitted and how these transmissions translate into thoughts and sensations can only be achieved through large collaborations, which are able to produce and analyse huge sets of data. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the BRAIN initiative has been compared with endeavors such as the Human Genome Project and even the Apollo project that landed a man on the Moon.

 Extracted from doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.23

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Researchers at Georgia Tech and MIT have developed a way to automate the process of finding and recording information from neurons in the living brain. The researchers have shown that a robotic arm guided by a cell-detecting computer algorithm can identify and record from neurons in the living mouse brain with better accuracy and
speed than a human experimenter. Using this technique, scientists could classify the thousands of different types of cells in the brain, map how they connect to each other, and figure out how diseased cells differ from normal cells.

Reference: S. Kodandaramaiah, G. Franzesi, B. Chow, E. Boyden, C.R. Forest, Automated whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology of neurons in vivo. Nature Methods, Vol. 9(6), p. 585-587, May 2012. (www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/v9/n6/abs/­nmeth.1993.html)

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Viviana Gradinaru, an assistant professor of biology at Caltech, discovered her passion for neuroscience as an undergraduate at Caltech, her alma mater. Viviana did her Ph.D. work with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University where she played an instrumental role in the early development and applications of optogenetics, a research area concerned with the perturbation of neuronal activity via light-controlled ion channels and pumps. More information on her own lab at Caltech can be found at glab.caltech.edu. Viviana is also interested in entrepreneurship for better human health and has co-founded a company, Circuit Therapeutics, based on optogenetics.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

On January 18, 2013, Caltech hosted TEDxCaltech: The Brain, a forward-looking celebration of humankind’s quest to understand the brain, by exploring the past, present and future of neuroscience. Visit TEDxCaltech.com for more details.

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