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US Administration Plans on Mapping the Human Brain

By BiotechDaily International staff writers
Posted on 11 Mar 2013
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The Obama administration is planning a major scientific initiative, the mapping the human brain, to understand how it functions and malfunctions.

The initiative, dubbed the Brain Activity Map (BAM), will seek to map each of the approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain, although initial studies will be performed in mice and other animals. The proposal for the project will be delivered to the US Congress as part of the president's budget package, and will carry a price tag of roughly USD 300 million a year over 10 years, totaling USD 3 billion. The effort is designed to be a collaboration between several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD, USA), the National Science Foundation (NSF; Arlington, VA, USA), and private organizations.

News reports about the initiative indicated that a 2012 scientific commentary outlined experimental plans for the project, including a variety of specific experimental techniques that might be used to achieve what is termed as the functional connectome, as well as new technologies that will have to be developed in the course of the project. Initial studies might be done in Caenorhabditis elegans, followed by Drosophila, because of their comparatively simple neural circuits. Mid-term studies could be done in zebrafish, mice, and the Etruscan shrew, with studies ultimately to be done in primates and humans.

The project involves the development of nanoparticles that could be used as voltage sensors that would detect individual action potentials, as well as nanoprobes serving as electrophysiological multielectrode arrays. Other methods could use wireless, noninvasive methods of neuronal activity detection such as microelectronic very-large-scale integration and synthetic biology, rather than microelectronics. A related technique proposed the use of high-throughput DNA sequencing for rapidly mapping neural connectivity. The data would be analyzed and modeled by large scale computation. A description of the BAM project and the challenges it faces was published on February 22, 2013, in Neuron.

“To succeed, the BAM Project needs two critical components: strong leadership from funding agencies and scientific administrators, and the recruitment of a large coalition of interdisciplinary scientists,” concluded report coauthor Paul Alivisato, PhD, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley, CA, USA), and colleagues. “We believe that neuroscience is ready for a large-scale functional mapping of the entire brain circuitry, and that such mapping will directly address the emergent level of function, shining much-needed light into the ‘impenetrable jungles’ of the brain.”

Related Links:

National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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