Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brain wiring revealed by high-power scanner

Axial41 top
Brain wiring
Image BBC 
BBC Science writer Pallab Ghosh reports February 17, 2013 about a special treat he received!

Scientists are set to release the first batch of data from a project designed to create the first map of the human brain.

The project could help shed light on why some people are naturally scientific, musical or artistic.

Some of the first images were shown at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.

I found out how researchers are developing new brain imaging techniques for the project by having my own brain scanned.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital are pushing brain imaging to its limit using a purpose built scanner. It is one of the most powerful scanners in the world.

The scanner's magnets need 22MW of electricity - enough to power a nuclear submarine.

The researchers invited me to have my brain scanned. I was asked if I wanted "the 10-minute job or the 45-minute 'full monty'" which would give one of the most detailed scans of the brain ever carried out. Only 50 such scans have ever been done.

I went for the full monty.
Pallab Ghosh
Read the entire BBC Science article and see the images and video in this link 

Follow up story by P. Ghosh in BBC March 6, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Henry Markram gets 1 billion to build a brain simulator

Henry Markram explaining neocortical neurons
Image wikimedia
Israeli scientist Henry Markram (b. 1962) has had enough brain power to win over a cosmic European Union one billion euro grant for his research. He is currently the director of both the Blue Brain and the Human Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

The enormous grant awarded to Markram is an obvious fact about the convincing power of human mind over other human minds in fierce competition for funding. (The other project that also got the caveted billion euro grant works on graphene.)

The question now is can Markram deliver a working computerized model of brain within the promised time scale so that in 2023 the world will have the Deep Thinker called Blue Brain. It should be simulating the actions of the 86 billion neurons that we seem to control with such ease in our modest 1.4 cubic litre heads?

BBC correspondent Ed Young writes
The very idea has many neuroscientists in an uproar, and the HBP’s substantial budget, awarded at a tumultuous time for research funding, is not helping. The common refrain is that the brain is just too complicated to simulate, and our understanding of it is at too primordial a stage.

Then, there’s Markram’s strategy. Neuroscientists have built computer simulations of neurons since the 1950s, but the vast majority treat these cells as single abstract points. Markram says he wants to build the cells as they are – gloriously detailed branching networks, full of active genes and electrical activity. He wants to simulate them down to their ion channels – the molecular gates that allow neurons to build up a voltage by shuttling charged particles in and out of their membrane borders. He wants to represent the genes that switch on and off inside them. He wants to simulate the 3,000 or so synapses that allow neurons to communicate with their neighbours.
Ed Young
Read the entire article in BBC Future - Science and Environment February 8, 2013