Talking of ‘mapping’ the human brain doesn’t really do the endeavour justice. Unlike say the liver – which contains fewer cell types, organised similarly across the organ – the brain is very inhomogeneous and tremendously more complicated. This makes not only description and location vital, but also capturing interactions. Given the scale and scope of the HBP’s (Human Brain Project) ambition, a unique characteristic is the broad range of expertise available. This is critical, since outputs rely on productive interactions among these very different communities of researchers and developers, impossible to achieve working in isolation. “These interactions do present challenges on a scale possibly not seen by any other European project,” says Prof. Jan Bjaalie. “There are barriers created by different practices, with everyone bringing traditions from their own fields, and there are terminology barriers. These barriers actually explain the rationale for the HBP, while highlighting the importance of getting the data infrastructure right.” Developing a generic data system Neuroscience has typically not managed and shared data at the large scale of the HBP, partly as the focus has previously been on the publication of papers which interpret collected data. For the HBP to capitalise on research synergies across all areas of neuroscience, the project’s data has to be collaborative. The data is stored alongside metadata tags and is searchable through a web browser. Specific features within particular groups of data can be extracted for incorporation into computational models and these can be used to perform simulations, with the results compared to data from real brain experiments. “Infrastructure developments go hand in hand with the science, enabling researchers to find and access relevant data, use it in clearly defined conditions, share the results, and cite the work of the original data providers,” says Prof. Bjaalie. Given the quantities of data involved, these efforts are only possible thanks to the use of high performance computing. New technologies and clinical applications The three primary goals of the HBP are: to better understand how the different elements of the human brain’s organisation fit and work together (basic science), to translate this to better diagnoses and treatments of brain disease (applied science for health), and also to use this understanding to develop new brain-inspired technologies (technology). Within these broad goals researchers are guided by some overarching research targets. Dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease, has been chosen as an area to demonstrate the Medical Informatics Platform’s functionality, installed at hospitals across Europe. Combining this anonymised clinical data facilitates more efficient analysis. Another example is the use of personalised brain models and atlases, navigable in 3D, for different applications like better planning for epilepsy surgery or deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s. Identification and resection of a small portion of the brain where epileptic seizures originate requires a deep understanding of the seizure’s organisation. To improve these procedures, the HBP combines a new multi-scale modelling and simulation environment with the project’s brain atlases and other data analysis tools. Critical to achieving the goals of the HBP is that it makes its systems openly available to the wider research community. Forthcoming this year will be a new online portal providing access to a series of user-centric services. “While some of the information is already available it is not so visible or easy to navigate. The new portal will make it easy for the outside community to find and use the tools and services delivered by the HBP,” says Prof. Bjaalie.
Human Brain Project, HBP, neuroscience, data, simulation, model, brain, atlas, disease, infrastructure, epilepsy, dementia