Researchers at Washington University are in the process of making the first interactive wiring diagram of a living, working human brain. Comprised of over 1200 volunteers, researchers are doing brain scans and cognitive, psychological, physical and genetic assessments, and are almost a third of the way through collecting research. Next is processing of data, which incorporates the data into a three-dimensional, interactive map of the healthy human brain. This map shows the brain structure and function, with detail to one and a half cubic millimeters, or less than 0.0001 cubic inches.
The 1200 volunteers will spend 10 hours over 2 days being scanned. Then, scientists and technicians will spend 10 hours analyzing and storing each person’s data to build a baseline database for structure and activity in a healthy brain that can be cross-referenced with personality traits, cognitive skills and genetics. This will be the first of its kind and will be available online to everyone.
This project is just one part of many efforts to advance the field of neuroscience and make the understanding of the human brain a reality. This has become a worldwide effort with Europe promising $1 billion for computer modeling of the human brain in the Human Brain Project and President Obama passing an initiative for $100 million for the Grand Challenge. The National Institutes of Health already spends $5.5 billion a year on neuroscience geared towards Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Private institutes are also devoting time and money to neuroscience research.
Brain mapping is the best example that scientists can give for others to understand what they are doing. David Van Essen, who is in charge of the Connectome effort at Washington University, has said, his hope is that the Human Connectome Project will be a step toward vaulting through the 19th and 20th centuries and reaching something more like Google Maps, which is interactive and has many layers.
Scientists at Washington University are using an MRI machine customized at the University of Minnesota for its research. An MRI is the one noninvasive way to scan the entire brain and also see the flow of information.
Scientists are continuing to work on analyzing data of the 1200 participants, however, they have released data from 238 of these participants and it can be seen on a web-based database and software program called Workbench.
While neuroscientists are nowhere near answering all the questions about the brain, they are hoping this research is a step in the right direction.