3D atlas aims to unlock the secrets of the mind
Scientists have created the highest resolution 3D digital model yet made of a human brain, showing features as small as 20 micrometres across – thinner than a human hair and almost on the scale of individual cells! Wow!
At 50 times the resolution of any available anatomical atlas of the brain “BigBrain” will give scientists their closest look yet at the structures that underlie aspects of the organ, ranging from cognition and language to ageing and disease. Until now the highest resolution MRI brain scans have only been able to resolve features down to about a millimetre.
Researchers, led by Katrin Amunts, of Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, constructed their digital model based upon the preserved brain of a 65-year-old woman that had been set in paraffin. The brain was sliced into more than 7,400 sections, each no more than 20 micrometres thick. The slices were stained to highlight the different types of cell present and then scanned into a computer, creating around a terabyte of data – equivalent to about 120 video DVDs. The slices were then reconstructed into a whole 3D digital brain.
Researchers slice a brain preserved in paraffin wax into slivers 20 micromtres thick for the 3D BigBrain atlas. The research was published on in the journal Science and the full data set for BigBrain project is to be made freely available at the CBRAIN Portal. BigBrain, part of the European Human Brain Project, will help scientists put the ever-rising flood of genetic and molecular findings about the brain into context.
“For instance, when you are interested in a common neurodegenerative disorder, like Alzheimer’s disease, you have the first ever brain model where you can look into details of the … brain region important for memory,” said Karl Zilles, an author on the Science paper, and based at the Düsseldorf university. Using this reference model of the brain, he added, would allow teams of researchers around the world to compare their results and tease out differences in the brains of healthy and unwell people. The 3D brain is expected also to help in clinical settings. Amunts said that when, for example, electrodes are inserted into the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease to help reduce tremors, surgeons could use the BigBrain atlas to position and move the thin wires with far greater precision.
For neuroscientists, BigBrain will act as a scaffold upon which further layers of information about the function of the living brain might be overlaid as discoveries are made. “I think we’re in an era now of very large big science coming to the brain,” said Evans.
BigBrain comes in the wake of announcements across the world of projects to map the human brain in ever greater detail. The European commission awarded €500m over 10 years to the Human Brain Project in January, which incorporates the BigBrain consortium. The wider aims of the project are led by Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, who wants to use supercomputers to create a digital model of a human brain. In April, the US president, Barack Obama, launched a $100m project called the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative, to map the human brain in action.
Source: The Guardian, TYVM
All this, and the treatment is still basically electroshock. Hmm.